Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts on Tuesday confirmed the authenticity of a leaked draft court opinion that would toss out longstanding abortion rights, but noted that isn’t the court’s final decision.
Roberts ordered an investigation into the leaker.
“To the extent this betrayal of the confidences of the Court was intended to undermine the integrity of our operations, it will not succeed,” the chief justice said in a statement. “The work of the Court will not be affected in any way.”
“I have directed the Marshal of the Court to launch an investigation into the source of the leak,” Roberts said.
The advance publication of a draft opinion is virtually unprecedented for the high court, where leaks of any kind are exceedingly rare.
The court shares drafts of opinions internally long before they are issued publicly, Roberts noted, calling it “a routine and essential part of the Court’s confidential deliberative work.”
The draft in this high-profile abortion case was created in February, according to Politico, which obtained the opinion.
The justices, law clerks and other employees of the court are “intensely loyal to the institution and dedicated to the rule of law,” Roberts said.
“Court employees have an exemplary and important tradition of respecting the confidentiality of the judicial process and upholding the trust of the Court. This was a singular and egregious breach of that trust that is an affront to the Court and the community of public servants who work here,” he said.
The publication of the draft opinion rocked Washington, triggering waves of shock and fury from Democrats who are now pushing for Congress to immediately codify abortion rights through legislation.
Republicans decried the leak itself, and many called for the sort of investigation the Roberts announced late Tuesday morning. The GOP lawmakers who commented on the draft opinion praised it for putting decisions about abortion in the hands of states instead of the federal government.
The 98-page draft opinion was penned by Justice Samuel Alito, one of six conservatives on a court that has moved sharply to the right in the wake of the Trump administration.
Alito’s draft would toss out the precedent set by the 1973 case Roe v. Wade and reaffirmed in 1992 by Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Those pivotal rulings protect the right to get an abortion before the point of fetal viability and require that regulations limiting abortion access do not pose an “undue burden.”
Alito wrote: “We hold that Roe and Casey must be overruled.”
The draft of the opinion of the court in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization would side with the state of Mississippi in defense of a law that would ban almost all abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
Lower federal courts had blocked the law on the grounds that it violates the protections established by the Roe and Casey decisions.
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