A Supreme Court under suspicion

In 2001, the devoted couple of Donald and Gayle Wright joined the cause of anti-abortion leader and lobbyist Rob Schenck, an evangelical reverend specialized at that time in trying to influence judges to favor their own interests, some more religious than others.

NewsEditor
NewsEditor
27 November 2022 Sunday 00:31
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A Supreme Court under suspicion

In 2001, the devoted couple of Donald and Gayle Wright joined the cause of anti-abortion leader and lobbyist Rob Schenck, an evangelical reverend specialized at that time in trying to influence judges to favor their own interests, some more religious than others. In a newsletter from Schenck's organization Faith and Freedom, the couple expressed their support for the cleric "to have a major impact on the attitudes and actions of those in a position to shape and interpret our laws." It was vital, they argued, that "in this moment of secular humanism and moral decline, our legislators and our judges return to the Judeo-Christian principles upon which our country was founded."

In June 2014, the Wrights were invited to dinner at the family home of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito. The Wrights had a good relationship with the Alitos, as well as Supreme Court justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas and their wives: a private relationship and also through the Supreme Court Historical Society, of which they were members and donors, with deliveries amounting to at least $125,000 according to records. Donald Wright (1936-2020) was a prosperous Ohio businessman with a chain of furniture stores in 24 states, and a former Christian philanthropist.

That 2014 dinner at the Alitos' house would not have been entirely innocent and disinterested, according to what Reverend Schenck revealed about it a few days ago in statements to The New York Times, as well as in a letter he sent in July to the president of the Supreme, John Roberts. According to the pastor, today repentant of his activities as a lobbyist, in that meeting Judge Alito leaked to his friends the meaning of an important ruling on contraception and religious rights.

By five votes in favor and four against, and with Alito as speaker and drafter of the resolution, the court was going to end the rule that required family businesses to pay their employees insurance that covered contraception. Because such a demand violated, according to that meager but decisive majority of the Supreme Court, the religious freedoms of employers. It was the Hobby Lobby case, so called from the name of the craft store chain that he had filed, and he was going to win the corresponding appeal.

Rob Schenck knew the ruling weeks in advance thanks to the confidence that Gayle Wright made him after his dinner with the Alitos, according to the reverend's version. This allowed him to prepare a good press and propaganda strategy ahead of time to offer it to the president of Hobby Lobby, Steve Green, the big winner of the case and his client. Although Green had already made some contributions to Faith and Freedom, the pastor wanted to make him one of his major donors.

Schenck informed Green of the sentence and his propaganda exploitation plan on the eve of the day the sentence was to be made public. Before, he had written a few emails and had private conversations in which he had indicated or suggested that he knew about the ruling in advance.

In light of the Times publication, both Judge Alito and Gayle Wright publicly denied discussing the meaning of the sentence at their June 2014 dinner party. But Schenck documented his revelation with numerous emails and by referring to his confidences to others. They did confirm their claims.

Reverend Schenck decided to write to the president of the Supreme Court last July, that is to say eight years after the events, following a new leak of an important ruling also drafted by Judge Alito: the famous ruling in the Wade vs. Roe case, which the Politico newspaper advanced in May and that in June it would annul the right to abortion. The president of the court then ordered an investigation into the leak, which was unusual, and Schenck opted to send him a letter explaining the background in case the information was useful to him, he said.

Beyond the accusation about the progress of the Hobby Lobby sentence, the pastor's account to the New York Times reveals close and fluid social relations between some of the judges who today form the conservative majority of the Supreme Court (by six to three). and prominent leaders of the ultra-religious right who, in addition to going hunting or dining with the justices, contribute to the Court Historical Society with generous tax-deductible donations.

The new scandal in the highest US court body comes when the country has not yet passed the hangover of a previous judicial year culminating in a chain of key sentences tilted to the right: the one that demolished the right to abortion, the one that it eliminated the restrictions on carrying weapons on the street, which stripped the Government of its regulatory powers against climate change... The US Supreme Court is also going through its worst image moment, at least in the 21 years that the Gallup company has been collecting and recording their popularity ratings. Today, only four out of ten citizens of the nation approve of their work, when in 2001 there were more than six (62%).

Congressional Democrats want to investigate not just the leak of the Hobby Lobby ruling but "the concerted attempt by religious conservatives to woo judges through food and social engagements," they noted this week. The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Dick Durbin, announced that the body is already "reviewing the serious allegations" against Alito. And he proposed a law to provide the Supreme Court with a code of ethics. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Hank Johnson, chairmen of congressional court subcommittees, called the new scandal "another black mark in the Supreme Court's increasingly battered ethics record."

It is what the United States lacked.

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