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 he noted that the court’s decision isn’t final.
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.
President Joe Biden said earlier Tuesday that he will work with Congress to pass and sign that legislation, if the reported draft opinion does reflect the final ruling.
After Roberts confirmed the authenticity of the draft, Vice President Kamala Harris said it is “clear” that “opponents of Roe want to punish women and take away their rights to make decisions about their own bodies.” She added that “Republican legislators in states across the country are weaponizing the use of the law against women.”
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 in the draft published by Politico: “We hold that Roe and Casey must be overruled.”
The draft of the court opinion 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.
The ascendance of the case to the Supreme Court, with its 6-3 conservative majority, made it one of the most significant threats to abortion protections in decades.
The court was expected to release its official ruling in the case closer to the end of the term in June, when the justices tend to share their biggest decisions.