Late Monday, US news website Politico had a blast: a draft Supreme Court majority opinion revealed that the court was in Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision that legalized abortion in the United States in 1973.
Unprecedented in modern history, the leak of a much-anticipated court opinion triggered a political firestorm in Washington and protests across the country. Democrats called the leaked draft decision “the biggest restriction of rights in more than 50 years” and vowed to pass legislation to protect abortion rights. Republicans praised the reported opinion, written by conservative Justice Samuel Alito, while accusing “radical leftists” of “bullying” Supreme Court justices.
In a city where the executive and legislative branches of government regularly leak information to the press, the Supreme Court has long enjoyed a reputation as one of relatively leak-free institutions.
And while some recent internal High Court deliberations have been released to the press, never before its announcement has the draft opinion leaked in its entirety.
Chief Justice John Roberts, who, according to Politico, had so far backed the majority opinion by Alito and four other conservative judges, strongly condemning the leak.
“This was a singular and serious breach of trust that is an insult to the court and the community of public servants working here,” he said in a statement.
At the heart of the Supreme Court case is a Mississippi law that prohibits abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. During oral arguments in December, the court’s conservative judges appeared prepared to uphold the law without signing to overturn the 1973 ruling.
Here are some frequently asked questions about Supreme Court leaks:
How rare is it to leak Supreme Court decisions?’
Extremely rare. The court keeps its internal deliberations and proceedings confidential to protect the judges from public pressure.
However, while court opinions have not leaked in modern times, unauthorized releases of court decisions and deliberations date back to the mid-19th century, according to University of Georgia media law professor Jonathan Peters.
In 1852, the New York Tribune reported the outcome of the court’s decision 10 days before its official announcement, Peters tweeted late Monday.
In 1972, The Washington Post reported details of the court’s internal deliberations in the Roe v. Wade case before the judges announced their decision.
And in 2012, CBS News reported how Roberts initially sided with the conservative wing of the court before voting to uphold key provisions of the Affordable Care Act.
But those leaks pale in comparison to what was given to Politico, experts say.
“Leaks in the past of how the case might have turned out warranted some of the court’s internal deliberations. But in the context of a 98-page majority opinion fully baked with citations, here’s what the Supreme Court’s opinion looks like and the outcome. ‘It’s never happened before,’ said Gabe Roth, executive director of the non-partisan Fix the Court.
Who might have leaked the document?
In a statement, Roberts ordered a US Supreme Court marshal – the court’s internal police force that protects judges and the building – to investigate the leak. Colonel Gail A. Curley is the current marshal.
Sarah Parshall Perry, a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, told VOA that the Supreme Court’s internal police have “absolute authority to enforce both federal and district laws of Columbia, which is a leak of opinion.” Would have broken off.”
But Roth suspects that the culprit may be uncovered.
Around 50 to 100 people, including nine judges, 37 clerks, administrative staff, building workers and security guards, could have access to the leaked document, he said.
“I don’t know if we’ll ever get to the bottom of who might have leaked the copy to Politico,” Roth told VOA.
Was any crime committed?
It is not clear whether any criminal violations were involved in the leak. If an authorized person accessed and leaked a court document, the charges could potentially include theft of government property, but there are no indications that the person authorized to access the document has filed with Politico. Shared the draft.
Although Supreme Court opinions, unlike many other government documents, are not classified, the court’s deliberations and draft decisions are treated confidentially, Perry said.
In addition, leaking a draft opinion intended to mislead justice could be a “serious crime,” said Richard Painter, a former White House ethics czar who is now a law professor at the University of Minnesota.
If a Supreme Court justice was involved in the leaking of the document, he could face impeachment by Congress.
Only one justice – Samuel Chase in the early 19th century – was ever impeached, but according to Roth, none was convicted and removed from the bench.
Will public outcry change the final verdict?
highly unlikely. In a statement, Roberts said the leaked document “does not represent the court’s decision or the final position of any member on the issues in the case.”
While justices sometimes change the way they vote in a case, some experts say the leaks have made it all the more improbable that with the five conservative 1992 case on the Court, Roe v. Wade, Planned Parenthood v Casey.
“Never want to succumb to public pressure,” said Supreme Court Justice Painter.
In recent months, Roberts is believed to have been looking for a middle ground that would support the law without reversing Roe v. Wade. But after the leak, he may join other conservatives in court to overturn the verdict, Perry said.
“They tried to find a middle ground,” she said. “For example, we can see 5-3-1. But based on their very strict statement that it’s not going to have any effect on how they’re governing, I believe we’ve actually got the Chief Justice.” Roberts, when before this leak, we couldn’t find him.