Chief Justice John Roberts has confirmed that the draft opinion leaked to Politico is an authentic document containing a majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito. The leak is unprecedented and will have massive ramifications on the functioning of the nation’s highest court, threatening to undermine the very existence of the judicial branch as an independent arm of the United States government.
Unprecedented leak from court
Roberts vowed that this development would not be allowed to fulfill its intended purpose of undermining the court and he announced that there would be an immediate investigation to find the source of the leak.
That investigation shouldn’t be too difficult, so long as the people in charge of it actually want to find the culprit. The number of individuals who would have access to the leaked document is extremely limited.
The only credible theory currently is that a clerk at the court gained access to the draft and chose to leak to Politico. The only alternative is that one of the justices is personally responsible. This would be very unlikely for any number of reasons.
Unless shocking evidence to the contrary is produced, it seems that a left-wing clerk leaked the explosive document and betrayed the trust of the justices and the institution as a whole.
Why would they do this? Clerking for the Supreme Court is an extremely competitive and highly sought after position, and this leak would only occur if the culprit believed that it was worth sacrificing a prestigious and powerful job over.
The individual was either distraught over the possibility of Roe v. Wade being overturned and attempted to stop the justices or they expected to become a hero to millions of liberals and receive an even more lucrative and influential career in the public eye. In fact, both motives likely played a role.
If the person behind the leak wins on either of these fronts then the court will suffer irreparable damage and may even cease to function as a politically independent body.
Roberts vowed to resist the apparent blackmail attempt, but public pressure and threats against the conservative justices and their families could risk swaying opinions.
Lifetime appointments and the secrecy under which the court works are meant to enable decisions that are based on honest interpretations of the law, rather than fear of political consequences.
A leak this serious is unprecedented, but a positive reaction could encourage future clerks to emulate the culprit, and trust within the closed ecosystem of the court has already been permanently shattered.
The leaker may face serious consequences, but they area also effectively guaranteed a place as a liberal folk hero and the kind of lucrative career that will accompany that status.
That’s worth losing a prestigious clerking job over, but if an aggressive investigation and harsh punishment quickly follow in this case there is still time to show future copycats that the deed isn’t worth the risk.