The Supreme Court’s legal counsel said there is no evidence that Justice Samuel Alito violated ethical standards, according to a letter Monday in response to questions from congressional Democrats about allegations that Alito revealed the outcome of a 2014 decision before it was released.
“There is no indication that Justice Alito’s actions violated ethical standards,” wrote Ethan Torrey, legal counsel for the Supreme Court. “Relevant rules balance preventing gifts that might undermine public confidence in the judiciary and allowing judges to maintain normal personal friendships.”
The senior congressional Democrats who had asked Chief Justice John Roberts for information about the justices’ knowledge of an alleged influence campaign targeting the court made it clear on Tuesday that they were not satisfied with Torrey’s response.
Torrey pushed back at claims made by an evangelical pastor, the Rev. Rob Schenck, published in The New York Times earlier this month. The story claimed there had been an earlier Supreme Court break in a landmark religious freedom case years before last term’s leak of a draft of the Dobbs decision that overturned Roe v. Wade.
“Justice Alito has said that neither he nor Mrs. Alito” told Gayle Wright, a visitor to his home years ago, “about the decision in the Hobby Lobby case or about the authorship of the opinion of the court,” Torrey wrote.
Torrey also said Alito and his wife became acquainted with Wright and her now-deceased husband through their support of the Supreme Court Historical Society, and “they had a casual and purely social relationship.”
“The court never found any effort on Wright’s part to obtain confidential information or influence anything he did in either an official or private capacity,” Torrey wrote.
Wright previously denied Schenk’s claims in an interview with CNN.
The letter was in response to questions from Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Johnson reached out to Torrey and Roberts for answers last week after the Times story ran.
The congressmen had asked Roberts to “assist our investigation” of the charges, warning that the new allegations suggest “that the orchestrators of this judicial lobbying campaign may have used their access to certain judgments to secure confidential information about pending cases that only deepens our concerns. about the lack of adequate ethical and legal safeguards at the court.”
On Tuesday, Whitehouse and Johnson said Torrey’s response “repeated Justice Alito’s denials but didn’t really answer any of our questions.”
Democrats — who chair Senate and House subcommittees overseeing the federal judiciary, respectively — bemoaned the court’s lack of ethical procedures and transparency.
“These many errors of due process are peculiar, coming from the highest court in the land,” they said. “Procedure is the bone structure of justice.”
This story has been updated with additional details.