“I’ll warn you: There’s money involved,” he emailed one ally. “Societies like this begin from one starting point: Donor. It’s not as expensive as you think, though.”
In return, Mr. Pride, the longtime executive director of the society, did favors for Mr. Schenck and other donors, getting them coveted seats at oral arguments and arranging for face time with justices at society functions. In one email exchange with Jay Sekulow, a society trustee who as chief counsel for the conservative American Center for Law & Justice argued cases involving religious liberty and abortion before the court, Mr. Schenck wrote that Mr. Pride would make sure Mr. Sekulow was seated at a justice’s table at the annual dinner. “Maybe CJ’s table,” he added, referring to Chief Justice Roberts.
Mr. Pride said that “my job was to serve members of the society, and that was part of the service.”
(Mr. Schenck also told The Times that one of his donors, a society trustee, had shared advance notice of the outcome of a high-profile contraception case after dining at the home of Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., the author of the opinion. Justice Alito and the trustee acknowledged sharing a meal and a friendship, but denied discussing confidential court business.)
Another top special interest donor is First Liberty Institute, a conservative nonprofit that also frequently litigates religious liberty cases before the justices. The institute, along with its employees and donors, gave a combined $217,500 from 2012 to 2022 while arguing before the court on behalf of clients such as a baker who refused to make cakes for gay couples. On the liberal side, special interest donors include the Boston Foundation, which advocates abortion rights, and the Freedom Forum, which advocates First Amendment rights.
Mr. Phillips, the society’s treasurer, said he hoped that Mr. Schenck’s account and the subsequent scrutiny wouldn’t result in the justices’ distancing themselves from the society, which he said does important work in preserving the court’s history in much the same way that similar nonprofits preserve the history of the White House and the U.S. Capitol.
But Gabe Roth, the executive director of Fix the Court, an advocacy group critical of the court’s lack of transparency, said that if the court wants to preserve its history, it should do so itself by asking for a small appropriation from Congress.