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Other View: Supreme Court justices are not immune from oversight

There’s no good reason that they shouldn’t be bound by the same ethics rules as the rest of the judiciary.

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Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court pose for their official photo at the Supreme Court in Washington, DC on Oct. 7, 2022. (Seated from left) Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, Chief Justice John Roberts, Associate Justice Samuel Alito and Associate Justice Elena Kagan, (Standing behind from left) Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett, Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch, Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh, and Associate Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.
Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images/TNS
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As the Supreme Court faces a crisis of credibility, another blow has landed in the form of former anti-abortion evangelical leader the Rev. Rob Schenck’s allegations about the leak of a pivotal decision eight years ago.

The detail that’s most captured the attention of lawmakers and the public is the allegation that, over dinner in 2014, Justice Samuel Alito told activists Gayle and Donald Wright about the impending decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby that would strike a private employer mandate to provide contraceptive care. Mrs. Wright then allegedly told Schenck, who would relay the revelation to others — including, the day before the decision, Hobby Lobby President Steve Green.

Some naysayers have waved away the account as hearsay, ignoring the fact that contemporaneous emails strongly suggest that Schenck not only knew about the decision but that Alito authored it.

Even setting aside the leak, it’s telling that we’ve become so inured to moneyed political influence-peddling that the broader claims — that several wealthy donors took steps like befriending court staff and going through the court’s historical society to lobby justices on issues before them — are falling by the wayside.

This shouldn’t be how the sausage is made. There’s no good reason that Supreme Court justices shouldn’t be bound by the same ethics rules as the rest of the judiciary. The justices and Alito in particular should have to answer questions from lawmakers about Schenck’s claims; while the court should be free from political interference, this absolutely does not mean it should be exempt from oversight or accountability.

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On that note, what is the status of the court marshal’s investigation into the leak of the draft decision overturning Roe v. Wade back in May? Investigators are targeting staff , but what about the justices themselves? That breach — likely either designed to put public pressure on the court’s majority to change its decision, or to lock in a draft ruling before its release — was an internal attack on the integrity of the court. Who did it and how will they be punished?

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