When Supreme Court justices gather on May 12 for their next closed-door conference to discuss pending petitions and outstanding opinions, everything will have changed.
At their conference, secrecy is so guarded that no one else is allowed in the room. Justice Amy Coney Barrett, as the junior-most justice, is charged with opening the door if someone knocks.
But such precautions seem almost quaint now.
The court that prides itself on collegiality, independence, a devotion to protocol and process is reeling from what Chief Justice John Roberts called a betrayal of confidence “intended to undermine the integrity of our operations.” While leaks are common in the other branches of government, a leak of a draft Supreme Court opinion published by Politico in the most important abortion case in decades, is seismic.
In the coming days an investigation launched by Roberts will commence and presumably have a long-term impact that will trigger changes in protocol and add new levels of secrecy.
In the short term, however, the implications of the leak could be more serious. That’s because in the coming weeks the justices will have to resolve the abortion dispute as well as a major Second Amendment case and others dealing with immigration, religious liberty and the environment.
“The nine justices, their more than three dozen law clerks, and the administrative aides must constantly and collegially collaborate to draft opinions in order for the Supreme Court to function,” said Mike Davis, a former clerk to Justice Neil Gorsuch. “This requires strict confidence, and utmost trust, both of which this unprecedented leak shattered.”
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