January 2023 Church & State Magazine - January 2023

Minister Says He Was Given Information About 2014 High Court Ruling Prior To Release


A minister who was formerly active in Christian Nationalism says he was told the outcome of a 2014 Supreme Court case weeks before it was formally issued.

The Rev. Rob Schenck told The New York Times that he was given information about the high court’s ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, a case that allowed employers to limit their employees’ access to contraceptives.

Schenck smiles for a photo while sitting at a desk in an office.

Schenck: Early warning on court ruling? (Church & State photo/Rob Boston)

Schenck, who has since repudiated Christian Nationalism, wrote to Chief Justice John G. Roberts in July to report that in June 2014, he was told by a donor to Faith and Action, a nonprofit Schenck led, that he would be dining with Justice Samuel A. Alito and his wife. According to Schenck, during the meal, the donor solicited information about the Burwell ruling, learned its outcome and passed it on to Schenck.

Schenck said he kept the information to himself for a few weeks and then called Steven Green, the CEO of Hobby Lobby, a chain of craft stores that sponsored the litigation opposing the mandate to include birth control in health care plans promulgated by the Obama administration and let him know that the ruling would be favorable.

The donors were Donald and Gayle Wright, Schenck told The Times. He said that after the couple dined with the Alitos, one of the Wrights called him and told him that Alito had written the majority opinion in Burwell and that it would be decided in Hobby Lobby’s favor.

A few weeks later, the ruling was released. It was authored by Alito and sided with Hobby Lobby.

In a statement, Alito admitted that he knows the Wrights but denied giving any information to them about the Burwell ruling.

“My wife and I became acquainted with the Wrights some years ago because of their strong support for the Supreme Court Historical Society, and since then, we have had a casual and purely social relationship,” Alito said. “I never detected any effort on the part of the Wrights to obtain confidential information or to influence anything that I did in either an official or private capacity, and I would have strongly objected if they had done so.”

Schenck, who currently runs the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Institute in Washington, D.C., said he was motivated to act after a draft Alito opinion overturning Roe v. Wade was leaked last May. Leaks are very rare at the Supreme Court, and the source of that one has yet to be determined.

For more information about Schenck and his journey away from Christian Nationalism, see “The Defector,” November 2021 Church & State.

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