US Supreme Court report fails to identify culprit in abortion verdict

The U.S. Supreme Court failed to determine in an investigative report Thursday who was behind the leak of a draft of its blockbuster May 2022 ruling, which ended the Roe v. Wade of 1973, which had legalized abortion nationwide and criticized the security measures of the nation’s top judiciary.

The report details an eight-month investigation conducted by Supreme Court Marshal Gail Curley on orders from Chief Justice John Roberts. The leak — with the Politico news agency publishing the draft verdict on May 2 — sparked an internal crisis at the court and ignited a political firestorm, with abortion rights advocates holding rallies outside the courthouse and at various locations across the United States .

It was an unprecedented breach of the nine-member court’s tradition of confidentiality in the process of behind-the-scenes decision-making after hearing oral arguments in cases.

The report did not identify a specific source of the leak and found that none of the 97 court employees interviewed by investigators had confessed to the disclosure.

It criticized some of the court’s internal security protocols and made it clear that investigators would continue to follow up new leads. When a court clerk was responsible, the report said, that person “blatantly violated a system fundamentally built on trust with limited safeguards to regulate and restrict access to very sensitive information.”

“The pandemic and resulting expansion of work-from-home opportunities, as well as gaps in court security policies, created an environment where it was too easy to get sensitive information off the building and IT (information technology) networks of the court to remove the risk of both intentional and accidental disclosure of sensitive court information,” the report said.

The report recommended that regardless of whether the source is identified, 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 leak investigation came at a time when the court was under increasing scrutiny and concerns about an erosion of its legitimacy, with opinion polls showing declining public trust in the institution. Only 43% of Americans have a positive opinion of the court, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted on Jan. 14. 13-15, less than 50% last May.

After examining the court’s computer equipment, networks, printers and available call and text logs, investigators found no forensic evidence that would indicate who released the draft opinion, the report said.

“Over time, continued investigation and analysis may provide additional clues that could identify the source of the disclosure,” the report said.

The draft opinion, written by conservative judge Samuel Alito, differed only slightly from the June 24 final decision. The ruling upheld a Mississippi law banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy and ended the recognition of a woman’s right to an abortion under the US Constitution.

Several Republican-ruled states took quick steps to enact abortion bans after the ruling.

Roberts announced the day after the leaked statement was released an investigation into what he described as a “unique and egregious breach” of the Supreme Court’s trust, “which is an affront to the court and the community of civil servants who work here.”

In announcing the investigation, Roberts defended the court staff as “very loyal to the institution and committed to the rule of law,” adding that court officials have a tradition of respecting the confidentiality of court proceedings.

Protesters held demonstrations outside the homes of some conservative judges after the leak. A 26-year-old California man who was armed with a handgun and plotted to kill Brett Kavanaugh was charged with attempted murder on June 8 after he was arrested near the Maryland House of Justice.

Liberal judiciary Elena Kagan said in September the court’s legitimacy could be jeopardized if Americans believe its members are trying to impose personal preferences on society. In October, Alito warned against questioning the court’s integrity. Liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor on 4/1 said she felt a “sense of despair” at the direction the court had taken during his previous tenure. The court has a conservative majority of 6:3.

Alito found himself in the midst of yet another leak controversy in November after The New York Times reported on a former anti-abortion activist’s claim that he had been told in advance how the court would rule in a major 2014 case in which it about insurance coverage for women’s birth control.

The ruling, authored by Alito, exempted privately held companies from a Democrat-backed federal regulation that would have required any health insurance they provided to employees to cover contraceptives if the company raised a religious objection.

Alito said any claim that he or his wife leaked the 2014 decision is “completely false.” The court’s counsel concluded that “there is nothing to suggest” that Alito violated ethical standards.

© Thomson Reuters 2023.

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