House Committee Holds Hearing On Supreme Court’s Ethics

December 9, 2022

The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing Thursday about the Supreme Court’s alleged ethics breaches, following reports of leaks and lobbying at the Court.

During the hearing, Christian conservative and former evangelical minister Rev. Robert Schenck described what he called efforts to deploy wealthy conservatives as “stealth missionaries” to befriend conservative Justices. 

“The operation’s overall goals were to gain insights into the conservative Justices’ thinking and to shore up their resolve to render solid, unapologetic opinions, particularly against abortion,” Schenck testified. “I called this our ministry of emboldenment.”

Schenck added he was able to try to build ties with the Justices through meals and hosting them at private homes by taking advantage of lax ethics rules at the Court.

“There were clear rules in place limiting the way one could interact with the representative branches…none of that applied at the Supreme Court,” Schenck said. “We knew that there was a great deal of liberty and latitude there and made our operation at the judicial branch, at that level, much easier.”

The House hearing—and Schenck’s testimony—follows a report last month in the New York Times which included a letter Schenck had sent to Chief Justice John Roberts alerting him that the Court’s decision on a 2014 case, Burwell v Hobby Lobby, was leaked ahead of its ruling being made public. Schenck had written that he thought the information might be relevant to the investigation into the leaked opinion this past spring on overturning Roe v Wade.

The Hobby Lobby leak, Schenck had disclosed in his letter, had occurred during a dinner hosted by conservative Justice Samuel Alito, according to the Times. 

A former clerk for conservative Justice Clarence Thomas countered Schenck’s testimony, calling the reverend a “con man.” Mark Paoletta argued that Schenck could not be trusted because he had publicly admitted to having lied at times during his lobbying drive. 

Another witness at Thursday’s hearing, Donald K. Sherman of the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, testified that reform is badly needed for rules governing gifts to Supreme Court Justices, recusals, spousal conflicts of interest and outside speaking engagements.

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