Chief Justice John Roberts Responds to Leak of Draft Abortion Opinion, Launches Investigation

“To the extent this betrayal of the confidences of the court was intended to undermine the integrity of our operations, it will not succeed,” Roberts wrote

Chief Justice John Roberts
WASHINGTON, DC – MARCH 01: Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts is seen prior to President Biden giving his State of the Union address during a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol on March 01, 2022 in Washington, DC. During his first State of the Union address, Biden spoke on his administration’s efforts to lead a global response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, work to curb inflation, and bring the country out of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Julia Nikhinson-Pool/Getty Images)

Chief Justice John Roberts on Tuesday responded to the leak of a Roe vs. Wade overturning draft decision on a case from Mississippi that had been circulating at the U.S. Supreme Court as the court confirmed its authenticity while underscoring that the first draft from February does “not represent a decision.”

Roberts also announced that the Marshal of the Court would conduct an investigation into the source of the leak — which he called a “singular and egregious breach” of the trust placed in Court employees.

Politico published the leaked document Monday, sparking immediate and intense backlash of two kinds: foremostly against the possibility that abortion rights are on the brink of dissolution in the United States, but also against the fact that a highly sensitive Supreme Court document would find the light of day.

“To the extent this betrayal of the confidences of the court was intended to undermine the integrity of our operations, it will not succeed,” Roberts said in a statement, addressing the leak and its possible motivations.

It’s believed to be the first time in the nation’s history that a draft decision has become public while a case was still in discussion. Roberts said he has directed the Marshal of the Court to investigate the leak.

But Roberts sought first to assuage fears about an impending change to the law.

“Justices circulate draft opinions internally as routine and essential part of the court’s confidential deliberative work,” the court wrote in a statement. “Although the document described in yesterday’s reports is authentic, it does not represent a decision by the court or the final position of any member on the issues of the case.”

A person familiar with the deliberations told Politco that the three Democratic-appointed justices – Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan – are “working on one or more dissents.” The only question remains around Roberts himself, a conservative appointed by George W. Bush who has sometimes backed the more liberal justices.

“How Chief Justice John Roberts will ultimately vote, and whether he will join an already written opinion or draft his own, is unclear,” the insider told Politico.

Ultimately, the draft could change by June and justices can and have in the past changed their votes in controversial cases after a draft opinion has circulated. A ruling will not be final until it is published, which Politico reports is likely to happen “in the next two months.”