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Supreme Court counsel says Justice Samuel Alito didn't violate ethics standards

CNN 11/29/2022 Ariane de Vogue

The Supreme Court legal counsel said there is no evidence that Justice Samuel Alito violated ethics standards, according to a letter on 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 nothing to suggest that Justice Alito’s actions violated ethics 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 clear Tuesday that they were not satisfied with Torrey’s response.

Torrey pushed back on allegations from an evangelical minister, Rev. Rob Schenck, published in The New York Times earlier this month. The story alleged that there had been an earlier Supreme Court breach in a landmark religious liberty case years before last term’s leak of a draft of the Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

“Justice Alito has said that neither he nor Mrs. Alito” told Gayle Wright, a guest at his home years ago, “about the decision in the Hobby Lobby case, or about the authorship of the opinion from the court,” Torrey wrote.

Torrey also said Alito and his wife became acquainted with Wright and her now-deceased husband because of their support for the Supreme Court Historical Society, and “they had a casual and purely social relationship.”

“The Justice never detected any effort on the part of the Wrights to obtain confidential information or to 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 Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Johnson posed to Torrey and Roberts for answers last week after the Times story ran.

The congressmen had asked Roberts to “assist our investigation” into the allegations and warned that the new allegations suggest “that the orchestrators of this judicial lobby campaign may have used their access to certain justices to secure confidential information about pending cases that only deepens our concerns about the lack of adequate ethical and legal guardrails at the court.”

On Tuesday, Whitehouse and Johnson said Torrey’s response “reiterated Justice Alito’s denials but did not substantively answer any of our questions.”

The Democrats – who chair subcommittees in the Senate and House respectively with oversight of the federal judiciary – lambasted the court for the lack of ethics procedures and transparency.

“These multiple failures of orderly 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.

CNN’s Tierney Sneed contributed to this report.

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