(Bloomberg) -- A US Supreme Court official said he sees no indication Justice Samuel Alito violated ethics rules after a New York Times story said a 2014 dinner party at the justice’s home allegedly produced a leak about the outcome of a major case over religious rights and contraceptives.
In a letter to two Democratic lawmakers, Supreme Court Legal Counsel Ethan Torrey repeated Alito’s statement that neither he nor his wife disclosed the outcome of the case or his authorship of the opinion. Torrey wrote that justices are allowed to maintain normal friendships.
“There is nothing to suggest that Justice Alito’s actions violated ethics standards,” Torrey wrote to Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Representative Hank Johnson of Georgia. The two had written to the court the day after the Times story.
The Nov. 19 Times story described allegations by evangelical minister Rob Schenck, a former anti-abortion activist, that he learned the outcome of the case from Gayle Wright, who had attended the dinner with her husband, Donald. The Wrights were part of a network Schenck was cultivating to build relationships with the court’s conservatives in the hope of subtly influencing them on abortion-related issues, the Times said.
A spokesperson for Schenck, who has since changed his views about abortion, confirmed the account he gave the Times. Gayle Wright denied the allegations, according to the Times.
Alito was also the author of this year’s ruling overturning the constitutional right to abortion -- an opinion that leaked into the public more than a month before it was issued. The court has yet to release the results of an internal investigation into that leak.
The 2014 decision, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, let closely held corporations claim a religious exemption from the requirement under the Affordable Care Act that employers provide birth-control coverage as part of their employee health-care plans.
The Supreme Court’s legal counsel, according to a press release that announced Torrey’s appointment in 2013, “provides support to the justices on a variety of case-related issues and legal services for the court as an institution.”
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