Court Battles

Supreme Court says it is unable to identify leaker of draft abortion decision

The Supreme Court on Thursday indicated it was unable to identify the source of the leak of a draft opinion that showed the court striking down Roe v. Wade.

In a public report detailing an investigation into the leaked opinion, which also upheld Dobbs v. Jackson in favor of Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban, the Supreme Court ultimately concluded the leak was likely not the result of a hack. It also lays out extensive attempts investigators took to determine if an employee disclosed the document.

The report details efforts to collect court-issued laptops and mobile devices from “all personnel who had access to the draft opinion” but that to date, investigators “have found no relevant information from these devices.”

As part of the investigation, employees requested to do so provided call and text records as well as billing statements for personal devices over a certain time period.

Also examined were any connections between court employees and reporters, in particular contacts made with Politico, the publication that first reported the draft opinion, which included a copy of the opinion itself. Interviews with nearly 100 court employees were conducted.

An unsigned statement by the court called the leak an “extraordinary betrayal of trust.”

“In May 2022, this Court suffered one of the worst breaches of trust in its history: the leak of a draft opinion. The leak was no mere misguided attempt at protest. It was a grave assault on the judicial process,” the start of the statement read.

Within hours of the leak, Chief Justice John Roberts directed the court’s marshal to investigate the source, calling it a “singular and egregious breach.” 

In June, the Supreme Court officially struck down Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey by upholding Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban, eliminating the constitutional right to the procedure and handing states authority to drastically limit or ban abortions.

The official court opinion largely mirrored the one that was leaked. The landmark Roe v. Wade decision would have reached its 50th anniversary this Sunday.

Beyond Supreme Court justices, the report revealed that 82 court employees had access to the draft opinion, with most having received it in February, nearly three months before Politico published it.

Investigators interviewed 97 employees as part of the probe, all of whom denied disclosing the opinion and signed sworn affidavits, although a few admitted to telling their spouses about the draft opinion or vote count.

The report also notes that it did not substantiate any speculation promoted on social media about the leak’s source.

A few remaining matters are pending, but the marshal suggested the probe may ultimately only be able to provide recommendations to prevent future leaks.

“In time, continued investigation and analysis may produce additional leads that could identify the source of the disclosure,” the report states. “Whether or not any individual is ever identified as the source of the disclosure, the Court should take action to create and implement better policies to govern the handling of Court-sensitive information and determine the best IT systems for security and collaboration.” 

The public version of the report lists seven recommendations for the court, including tailoring access to draft opinions, strengthening employee training and considering support of introduced legislation that would expressly prohibit unauthorized disclosures.

Updated 4:10 p.m.

Tags abortion ruling Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization John Roberts Roe v. Wade Supreme Court

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