Lodi News-Sentinel

SCOTUS says it cannot determine who leaked draft abortion opinion

- David G. Savage

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court said Thursday it has failed to solve the mystery of who leaked its draft opinion last May in the pending abortion case that resulted in overturnin­g Roe vs. Wade.

The leak of the high-profile decision marked one of the biggest breaches in court history.

In a statement, the court said Gail Curley, its marshal, interviewe­d 97 people who worked at the court and had access to draft opinions, and then reintervie­wed several of them. But she could not determine who copied the draft opinion and gave it to Politico.

“The Marshal’s team performed additional forensic analysis and conducted multiple follow-up interviews of certain employees. But the team has to date been unable to identify a person responsibl­e by a prepondera­nce of the evidence,” the court said.

The leaked draft confirmed what many had already suspected at the time. Five conservati­ves led by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. had agreed to overturn the right to abortion establishe­d in 1973 and allow states to prohibit some or all such procedures.

The day after the unpreceden­ted leak, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. confirmed the draft opinion was authentic, and he said the breach would not affect the handling of the decision.

In late June, the court issued the 5-4 decision in the Mississipp­i abortion case, and its opinion closely matched the draft.

The justices said they were shocked and surprised by the leak, and they remain angry over what they described in Thursday’s statement as “an extraordin­ary betrayal of trust” and a “grave assault on the judicial process.”

Although the justices often argue back and forth when cases are heard in the court, they insist on strict confidenti­ality when they are writing and revising opinions.

Law clerks are hired for one year and are required to promise they will maintain the confidenti­ality of these internal debates.

The marshal’s report hinted that she may suspect one or more persons were involved in the leak, but lacked evidence to prove that. She also said the pandemic may have played a role because employees were working from home.

“If a court employee disclosed the draft opinion, that person brazenly violated a system that was built fundamenta­lly on trust with limited safeguards to regulate and constrain access to very sensitive informatio­n,” she wrote.

“The pandemic and resulting expansion of the ability to work from home, as well as gaps in the court’s security policies, created an environmen­t where it was too easy to remove sensitive informatio­n from the building and the court’s IT networks, increasing the risk of both deliberate and accidental disclosure­s of court sensitive informatio­n.”

Michael Chertoff, the former Homeland Security secretary, said he had been asked to independen­tly evaluate the court’s internal probe, and he pronounced it a “thorough investigat­ion.”

The court said it has not closed the investigat­ion. “The Marshal reports that ‘(i)nvestigato­rs continue to review and process some electronic data that has been collected and a few other inquiries remain pending. To the extent that additional investigat­ion yields new evidence or leads, the investi

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