Lawmaker Accuses Supreme Court Justices Roberts and Alito of Misleading the Senate

Supreme Court Justices John Roberts, left, and Samuel Alito. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Photo | Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

A recent controversial ruling by the Supreme Court reveals that Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito Jr. were less than transparent during their Supreme Court confirmation hearings, a Democratic lawmaker charged today.

And the lawmaker, Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., is none too happy about it.

The Supreme Court ruling last week in the Hobby Lobby contraception case, Durbin said, goes against the landmark 1965 privacy case, Griswold v. Connecticut, which both justices vowed to uphold during their confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee nearly a decade ago.

Durbin said he always makes sure to ask conservative judicial nominees whether they support the Griswold ruling, which is at the heart of women's rights issues.

"I asked that question repeatedly of Justice Roberts and Justice Alito to make sure that they would honor that same tradition of privacy. The Hobby lobby decision violates that fundamental premise," said Durbin, who serves on the Judiciary Committee.

While he noted the justices were careful in their answers, "they both said they stood by the Griswold decision."

Durbin's comments came today as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and other Democratic leaders announced new women's healthcare legislation and sharply criticized the Hobby Lobby ruling.

Reid agreed the Senate was misled.

"Alito told us who he was. We let it go," Reid said. "Roberts didn't. He misdirected us. He's certainly been a disappointment to us."

Griswold was a landmark case that overturned a Connecticut statute that prohibited the use of contraceptive devices. In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court ruled the law violated marital privacy, which is protected under the Bill of Rights.

"It was a breakthrough," Durbin said, that placed the rights of individuals and families over a state's right to ban contraceptives.

But nearly 50 years later, contraception is once again at the center of a divisive ruling.

In the Hobby Lobby case, the Supreme Court ruled that for-profit companies could deny contraceptive coverage under their company health plans if it violated a religious belief. Alito, writing for the majority, acknowledges a constitutional right to obtain contraceptives, established under Griswold, but steers the rationale of the court's ruling to religious freedoms.

Democratic members of Congress responded to the decision with new proposed legislation intended to restore the contraceptive coverage requirement under the Affordable Care Act. The bill, which could be introduced as early as next week, would prevent employers from interfering with coverage for conception or other health services guaranteed under federal law.

At today's news conference, Reid called the Hobby Lobby decision the worst Supreme Court ruling in the last 25 years.

"It's wrong for five men to decide what happens to women in America," he said.

As Democrats fight to keep a majority in the Senate in the fall elections, they are trying to draw attention to the court's decision in hopes of rallying women voters to their side. Even if the Senate approves the legislation, Republican leaders in the House have no intention of following suit. Yet Reid defended the decision to press the issue, saying it was about far more than an election-year tactic.

"It would be political malpractice," Reid said, "if we did not react the way we have dealing with this horrible decision made by the Supreme Court."