GOP bill would criminalize Supreme Court leaks
Republicans are responding to the bombshell leak of a draft opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade abortion rights protections by aiming to criminalize leaks of non-public Supreme Court information.
A group of 12 House Republicans introduced the Leaker Accountability Act on Tuesday, which would bar any officer or employee of the Supreme Court from “knowingly publishing, divulging, disclosing, or making known in any manner” confidential information such as internal notes, draft opinions, or final opinions before publication learned through the course of employment at the court. The crime would be punishable by up to five years in prison.
House GOP Conference Vice Chair Mike Johnson (La.) led the bill, joined by 11 co-sponsors, including GOP Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (N.Y.).
“The unauthorized leak of the draft opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health constitutes a grave breach of judicial ethics and a deliberate attack on the independence of the Supreme Court,” Johnson said in a statement.
“This legislation is now, unfortunately, a necessary step to discourage future such attempts to intimidate justices during their deliberative process and restore independence to the Court so that it can ensure the American people are afforded equal and impartial justice under the law.”
The leak of the Dobbs decision, which would eliminate a federal constitutional right to abortion and allow Congress and the states to strictly regulate or outright ban abortion, sent shock waves through Washington not just due of the impact of the potential decision, but because of the leak itself.
The Supreme Court is notoriously secretive, and until Politico published the draft, no draft opinion in the court’s modern history had leaked to the public before official release.
Chief Justice John Roberts ordered an internal investigation into the source of the leak, which is ongoing. Some Republicans called on the Department of Justice to probe the issue.
Some legal experts argue that the Supreme Court leaker may have committed a federal crime that is already on the books, such as embezzlement of government records or obstruction of justice, by leaking the draft decision. Others, though, say that while the leak is unethical and could result in consequences for the leaker like firing or disbarment, it is doubtful any leak was criminal.
The Leaker Accountability Act would plainly make such leaks from the Supreme Court a crime, though it could not apply retroactively to the source of the leaked Dobbs draft opinion.
“In response to the leaked Dobbs draft opinion, there has been widespread agreement on one thing — it is entirely unclear whether the leaker can face any legal liability. Representative Mike Johnson’s Leaker Accountability Act fixes that problem,” Adam Brandon, president of the conservative advocacy group FreedomWorks, said in a statement. “This bill is a commonsense response to a horrible situation to ensure it never happens again.”
It is unlikely that the bill comes up for a vote in the Democratic-controlled House before the end of the year.