Former anti-abortion advocate tells House committee about efforts to influence conservative SCOTUS justices

The Rev. Rob Schenck testified before the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday about Operation High Court, an effort to recruit wealthy donors to meet conservative Supreme Court justices. Schenck also gave details to the committee about his allegation that he was told about a 2014 Supreme Court decision, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, before it was made public.

Video Transcript

ROBERT SCHENCK: I am here to present facts as I know them about Operation Higher Court, a Christian mission that I directed as part of faith and action for 20 years to bolster conservative Supreme Court justices in the views they already held. I had no qualms about complying with this committee's subpoena to testify, but I did not seek this public forum.

After four decades of public life, I now relish the serenity of time with family, friends, colleagues, and my beloved books. Neither did I instigate the news coverage surrounding this subject that began when a reporter overheard a former colleague talking about prayers we had with some of the justices inside the Supreme Court building.

Before that, following stories about the leak of the Dobbs decision this past May, the "New York Times" had learned about my role in an earlier leak related to my work at the court. But I did not go on the record with them until much later.

That was after I received no acknowledgment of a letter I sent to Chief Justice John Roberts in July detailing the matter. I had written it principally out of a concern that a court subordinate would unfairly take the blame for the Dobbs leak, suffering draconian punishment. Yet I knew a justice would face no consequence for such a breach.

By the time I went on the record, I was convinced there was even more significant implications, not only to the 2014 leak, but also to the facts surrounding it. Operation Higher Court involved my recruitment of wealthy donors as stealth missionaries who befriended justices that shared our conservative social and religious sensibilities.

In this way, I aimed to show these justices that Americans supported them and thanked God for their presence on the court and the opinions they rendered. Our overarching goals were to gain insights into the conservative justices' thinking and to shore up their resolve to render solid, unapologetic opinions, particularly against abortion.

I called this our ministry of emboldenment. It was not an attempt to change minds. Beyond convivial small talk, our missionaries did not engage liberal members of the court.

My recruits for Operation Higher Court were older, highly accomplished, and independently-minded. They did not take kindly to being told where to go, what to do, or how to do it. Successfully deploying them required their autonomy.

I did suggest tactics to cultivate affinity. But otherwise, our folks were on their own. Most of them limited their support to regular prayers on behalf of the justice's family, warm personal greetings and assurances of goodwill at social functions, and sending greeting cards on special occasions.

But they might also host justices or their spouses for meals at restaurants, private clubs, or their homes. And sometimes, the justices reciprocated. The Hobby Lobby leak resulted from one of these arrangements.

Throughout this ordeal, I've had to look deeply at what my cohorts and I did at the Supreme Court. I believe we pushed the boundaries of Christian ethics and compromised the high court's promise to administer equal justice. But I'm also conscious we were never admonished for the type of work our missionaries did. Quite to the contrary, in one instance, Justice Thomas commended me, saying something like, keep up what you're doing. It's making a difference.