November 21, 2022
Two big stories landed over the weekend.
The first harks back to the furor last May when the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health—the decision overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that recognized abortion rights as a constitutional right—was leaked to Politico before it was released. At the time, Chief Justice John Roberts called the leak a “singular and egregious breach of…trust” and ordered an investigation to find the leaker. In late October, Justice Samuel Alito told the Heritage Foundation that the leak was a “grave betrayal of trust by somebody, and it was a shock” that had made the court’s right-wing majority “targets for assassination.”
On Saturday, Jodi Kantor and Jo Becker of the New York Times reported that the Reverend Rob Schenck, formerly an antiabortion activist, wrote to Roberts in July (although the letter was dated June 7, 2022) to say that in 2014 he had received advance notice of the court’s decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby—the decision allowing corporations to deny their employees contraceptive health care coverage—from a woman who had just had dinner with Justice and Mrs. Alito. The dinner guest told Schenck that she had learned that Alito was writing the decision and that it would favor evangelical Christians. Schenck, who has become an advocate of choice as he is trying to mark himself as a progressive evangelical leader, signed the letter to Roberts, “Yours in the interest of truth and fairness.”
Schenck provided the reporters with contemporary emails suggesting he knew the outcome of the Hobby Lobby case ahead of time, and they talked to four people who confirmed that he had confidential information about it before the court handed it down. He used that information to prepare a public relations push ready to go the minute the decision was public.
The leak of a Supreme Court decision is shocking and potentially illegal, but even more shocking than the revelation that there have been two major leaks from the court—both of right-wing opinions authored by Alito—was the story the reporters unraveled of the degree to which evangelical activists worked to become close to the justices, especially through participation in the court’s historical society, as well as religious events, a plan Schenck called “Operation Higher Court.” Their goal was to influence the justices quietly, and it appears to have been at least somewhat successful: in July, Peggy Nienaber, the executive director of Liberty Counsel’s D.C. ministry, who worked with Schenck, was caught on a hot mic saying she prayed with certain Supreme Court justices.
On Sunday, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Representative Hank Johnson (D-GA) wrote to Chief Justice John Roberts to say that if the court is not going to investigate the breaches, lawmakers will.
New York Times reporters were evidently busy this weekend, because Eric Lipton and Maggie Haberman reported Sunday that the Trump family has begun to work not just with foreign nationals, but with foreign governments themselves. The Trumps have recently signed a $4 billion deal with a Saudi Arabian real estate company that is backed by the government of Oman.
The Trumps are deeply tangled with the Saudis already, of course, hosting the LIV Golf tournaments backed by the Saudi government and—in Jared Kushner’s case—investing $2 billion of Saudi government funds, a deal that Saudi leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS, personally approved after the panel that screens investments advised against the deal.
Meanwhile, prosecutors today called their last witness in the criminal trial of the Trump Organization for fraud and tax evasion. Key witness Allen Weisselberg, former chief financial officer of the Trump Organization, has painted a picture of an organization that avoided taxes by paying officers with private school tuition, cars, and rent money. The company denies all charges and says the fraudulent movement of money can be tied to Weisselberg alone.
Finally tonight, on a lighter note, this morning President Joe Biden pardoned turkeys Chocolate and Chip, lucky turkeys indeed in this season where supply chain choke points and the late season, virulent avian flu meant the culling of 7.3 million birds earlier this year, at least 3.6% of the nation’s turkeys. Chocolate and Chip will live out their lives on the campus of North Carolina State University.
Later, the president and First Lady Jill Biden had a “Friendsgiving” dinner this afternoon at the Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, with service members and military families, greeting them table by table and then thanking both the “best fighting force in the history of the world” and those at home who, in the words of poet John Milton, “stand and wait.”