A right-wing religious activist was caught on hot mic saying she prayed with Supreme Court justices
The woman, who was heard on audio obtained by Rolling Stone, is connected to an organization that filed a brief before the court.
Here’s a little peek behind the curtain of how my job works: If I’m writing about a specific subject, and I happen to have a connection with any of the people or organizations involved in what I’m writing about, I have to say so right there in the middle of the article. If I have a really serious connection to anyone I’m supposed to be writing about, I say “nope, sorry, can’t cover this story. I’m too close,” and then I respectfully bow out to let one of my colleagues with some distance take over. This is a fairly standard practice to avoid the even the appearance — much less the actual presence — of a conflict of interest. For the most part it works out very nicely for everyone involved.
For some reason, however, that no-brainer of a policy does not seem to hold true when it comes to the highest court in the land, and its ability to adjudicate on the very same issues that some of its members, it just so happens, are personally involved in. In fact, thanks to leaked audio first obtained by Rolling Stone, it now seems clear that several Supreme Court justices have evidently been rubbing elbows with some petitioners who had active cases before the court at the time.
At an anti-reproductive rights rally outside the Supreme Court building in the wake of the court’s ruling to overturn Roe v. Wade last month, Peggy Nienaber, the vice president of the right-wing “Faith & Liberty” group, was caught on a hot mic bragging that she and members of her group regularly pray alongside several of the justices. “They will pray with us, those that like us to pray with them,” she exclaimed, in response to a question from a YouTube streamer filming the rally. “We actually go in there,” she added, when asked where the sessions took place.
While the overt religiosity of the currently heavily conservative court is hardly a surprise, Neinaber’s admission (which, she stressed, was made “totally off the record” in the footage obtained by Rolling Stone) poses a problem for both her and the integrity of the court overall. In addition to working with Faith & Liberty, Nienaber also serves as the executive director of the D.C. Ministry, a local affiliate of the national Christian theocracy advocates Liberty Counsel, a Southern Poverty Law Center-designated hate group. And Liberty Counsel, it so happens, has been instrumental in this court’s rightward lurch, having not only submitted an amicus brief for the case that ultimately overturned Roe, but also filed their own, separate religious liberties case before the court as well.
While Liberty Counsel’s founder denied to Rolling Stone that any prayer sessions with Supreme Court justices ever took place, D.C. Ministry founder Rob Schenck told the magazine that he had prayed with several justices within the court building itself as recently as the last decade. He eventually ceded control of the group to Liberty Counsel, which absorbed D.C. Ministry in 2018.
All this comes amidst a renewed scrutiny on Justice Clarence Thomas’s wife, Ginni Thomas, who allegedly involved herself deeply in the Republican effort to subvert the 2020 presidential election that culminated in the Jan. 6 insurrection. Thomas pointedly did not recuse himself from any of the court decisions that dealt with that effort.
Taken together, both the Thomas case and now Rolling Stone’s report on the seemingly glaring conflict of interest nestled at the heart of Nienaber’s inadvertent admission paint a picture of a court in which at least several members have absolutely abandoned any pretense of objectivity and are more than comfortable flaunting their theocratic, anti-democratic inclinations instead.
With that in mind, the only questions that matter at this point are: What else will they do, and will anyone care to stop them?