Hunt for Supreme Court Clerk as Conservatives Rage Over Roe v. Wade Leak

A number of conservative figures have expressed their outrage over the apparent leak of a draft opinion suggesting the Supreme Court is willing to overturn Roe v. Wade.

According to the internal document, obtained by Politico, a majority of SCOTUS judges have provisionally voted to overturn the landmark 1973 ruling which legalized abortions across the country.

Even if the contents of the leaked draft written in February are confirmed, a ruling on Roe v. Wade may still be subjected to a number of changes and rewrites before a decision is formally made sometime after late June.

The leaking of the internal document of the Supreme Court, written by Justice Samuel Alito, is also an almost unprecedented breach of confidentiality from within the court. As noted by Politico, no draft decision has been disclosed publicly while a case was still pending in the modern history of the court.

Roe v Wade leak
The Supreme Court is poised to strike down the right to abortion in the U.S., according to a leaked draft of a majority opinion that would shred nearly 50 years of constitutional protections. Above, abortion rights activists gather at the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. on May 2, 2022. STEFANI REYNOLDS/AFP/Getty Images

Neal Katyal, who served as former President Barack Obama's top Supreme Court lawyer, described it as the "first major leak from the Supreme Court ever" and likened its reveal to the Pentagon Papers, the publication of secret U.S. documents on the Vietnam War by The New York Times in 1971.

The Twitter account for the SCOTUSBlog stated: "It's impossible to overstate the earthquake this will cause inside the Court, in terms of the destruction of trust among the Justices and staff. This leak is the gravest, most unforgivable sin."

A number of Republican figures have also lashed out at the leaking of the draft opinion, with some lawmakers believing that it was done by a court clerk in an attempt to whip up enough public outcry to help persuade the conservative Justices to change their minds on the ruling before the court's final decision.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz tweeted he was "appalled by the shocking breach of trust" posed by the leak, given that such deliberations are usually kept from the public.

"This is a blatant attempt to intimidate the Court through public pressure rather than reasoned argument," Cruz tweeted. "I hope my fellow former clerks and the entire legal community will join me in denouncing this egregious breach of trust."

Missouri Senator Josh Hawley tweeted: "The left continues its assault on the Supreme Court with an unprecedented breach of confidentiality, clearly meant to intimidate. The Justices mustn't give in to this attempt to corrupt the process. Stay strong."

Fox News host Laura Ingraham said if it turns out a court clerk did leak the draft opinion to the press, they should be "immediately discovered and disbarred."

"It is a sad commentary that someone in that building took it upon himself or herself to totally usurp the role of the justices and hijack the court's deliberative process," she said during Monday night's episode of The Ingraham Angle."But once again, it looks like the left will just smash an established government process to get their way, do anything in their power to stop a principled, conservative majority from issuing a ruling on a pending case."

Matt Walsh, a political commentator for the conservative news site The Daily Wire, said the leaking of the draft was "obviously done by a liberal Justice to pressure one of the conservatives to change their mind" while suggesting attempting such a move is "an attack on our system 100000000 times more serious than the Capitol riot."

While this may be the first time a draft opinion from the Supreme Court has been leaked, it is not the first time a decision or internal deliberations has been revealed to the press before an official announcement.

In 1973, the original Roe v. Wade ruling was leaked by Supreme Court clerk Larry Hammond to Time magazine before the decision was announced by Justice Harry Blackmun.

Jonathan Peters, a law professor at the University of Georgia School of Law, also noted a series of other incidents in which details from inside SCOTUS were leaked. These include how a group of law clerks leaked to Vanity Fair the details of the secret deliberations in Bush v. Gore in 2004.

In 2012, CBS's Jan Crawford also reported that Chief Justice John Roberts was initially planning to side with conservatives on the bench to strike down a key law in the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, before changing his mind and aligning with the liberals.

"All of which is to say: Supreme Court leaks are rare and remarkable, but they are not unprecedented," Peters tweeted.

According to the leaked draft, Alito said that the court should not be swayed by "extraneous influences" such as public reaction when making decisions.

Newsweek reached out to the Supreme Court for comment.