Former anti-abortion activist claims Supreme Court justice leaked landmark 2014 decision to influential donors

A former anti-abortion activist with an influential lobbying group claims that he was told the outcome of a landmark US Supreme Court case before it was published in 2014.

Evangelical minister Rob Schenck, once a prominent anti-abortion leader in Washington DC, claims in a letter to Chief Justice John Roberts that he was informed of the high court’s ruling in Burwell v Hobby Lobby, which marked a significant victory for Christian conservative groups.

That 2014 decision ruled that it was a violation of religious freedom for family-owned businesses to be required to pay for employee health insurance that covers contraception.

Mr Schenck said he relied on his advanced knowledge of the ruling to prepare public relations materials and to inform the president of Hobby Lobby, the craft store at the centre of the case, according to The New York Times.

Mr Schenck – who has previously claimed that he prayed with conservative justices in their chambers from the late 1990s until his departure from his nonprofit group in 2010 – claims that two donors to his group dined with Justice Samuel Alito and allegedly told him that they woul be able to glean information about the case.

Mr Alito authored both the Hobby Lobby case as well as Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization, another landmark case that revoked a constitutional right to abortion care and overturned key rulings in Roe v Wade and Planned Parenthood v Casey.

That decision on 24 June also was leaked, with a draft of Mr Alito’s written opinion published by Politico more than one month earlier.

The leak of that opinion was widely condemned by members of the court, with mounting fears that it could undermine its legitimacy while facing accusations that the nine-member panel has grown increasingly politicized, particularly under a new conservative supermajority with three members appointed by Donald Trump.

But Mr Schenck claims that it was not the first time a decision had been leaked. He told The Times that he worked “for years” to gain access to the court, whose members are appointed for life terms.

In June 2014, two of his organisation’s “star donors” – Donald and Gayle Wright – reportedly ate a meal with Justice Alito and his wife, Martha-Ann.

One day later, Ms Wright wrote an email to Mr Schenck, telling him: “Rob, if you want some interesting news please call. No emails.”

According to The New York Times, she allegedly discussed the outcome of the case, which was not revealed until three weeks later.

A statement from Mr Alito through the court denies “any effort” from the Wrights to extract decisions or influence the court.

“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,” Mr Alito said in the statement.

“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,” he said. “I have no knowledge of any project that they allegedly undertook for ‘Faith and Action,’ ‘Faith and Liberty,’ or any similar group, and I would be shocked and offended if those allegations are true.”

Ms Wright denied obtaining or passing along any such information in an interview with The Times, and a representative for Hobby Lobby declined to comment.

Mr Schenck made the allegations in a message to Chief Justice Roberts as the court investigates the source of the Dobbs leak.

He wrote a message to the chief justice on 7 June. It was mailed in July, according to The Times.

“Considering there may be a severe penalty to be paid by whoever is responsible for the initial leak ofthe recent draft opinion, I thought this previous incident might bear some consideration by you and others involved in the process,” he wrote, according to the message obtained by the newspaper.

“Of course, I would be happy to fully cooperate should you find any value in other details surrounding what I have transmitted here.”