Supreme Court says it hasn’t identified Roe v. Wade draft opinion leaker

It was a political earthquake last May when the draft Supreme Court opinion overturning Roe v. Wade was leaked almost two months before the ruling was handed down. Chief Justice John Roberts launched an investigation but said the court has not been able to identify the leaker. Supreme Court analyst Marcia Coyle joined John Yang to discuss the report.

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  • Geoff Bennett:

    It was a political earthquake last May when the draft Supreme Court opinion overturning Roe v. Wade was leaked almost two months before the ruling was actually handed down. Chief Justice John Roberts launched an investigation.

    And today, as John Yang reports, the court issued its report.

  • John Yang:

    Geoff, the investigation has not been able to identify the leaker. No one confessed, and none of the available evidence points to a culprit.

    The investigation, which was reviewed by former Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff, did identify weaknesses in the way the court handles sensitive documents.

    Marcia Coyle is the "NewsHour"'s Supreme Court analyst.

    Marcia, what did — who did the Supreme Court go about investigating this?

  • Marcia Coyle:

    Well, as you recall, John, the investigation was assigned to the court'S marshal.

    She's a former national security lawyer for the Army and pretty much is an administrator now in which she manages the courts of security. The marshal undertook the investigation. And there were interviews of 97 court employees, 82 of whom actually had access to electronic or hard copies of the draft opinion.

    These employees were not only interviewed, but they were asked to agree to sworn affidavits about the statements they made to investigators. And, as you said, at the at the end, they could not show by a preponderance of evidence that any one person was responsible for the leak.

  • John Yang:

    And the report said that pandemic may have actually played a role in this.

  • Marcia Coyle:

    And that was kind of interesting, John.

    The court said the pandemic — pandemic and the expansion of the ability to work from home, along with the gaps in the court's own security measures, really increased the risk of an inadvertent or deliberate disclosure of the draft report.

  • John Yang:

    The report also said that the — they had some broad recommendations about improving the way the court handles secure documents or documents that shouldn't be leaked.

    And they said a lot of the policies are outdated. Should that surprise people that, in the 21st century, the Supreme Court has outdated policies on handling secure documents?

  • Marcia Coyle:

    I'm sure would surprise many who aren't really familiar with the court itself, but it doesn't surprise those who follow the court.

    The court as an institution is very slow to change. And I think that is largely the reason why. I mean, we're still hearing arguments over whether there should be cameras in the courtroom. And it was only because of the pandemic that the court began to livestream audio of arguments.

    So, again, it's an institution that changes incrementally. And so, no, I don't think those who know the court would be that surprised.

  • John Yang:

    You know the court very well. You have watched the court and these justices.

    The one thing that report did not talk about is the effect that the leak had on the operations of the court, of the dealings between the justices. Are you seeing any long-term effects of that in the way the court, the justices operate and deal with each other?

  • Marcia Coyle:

    In terms of the leak, I think that it's hard to say that I see anything visibly.

    I mean, we know that, last summer, some of the justices made comments about the impact of the leak. Justice Thomas, for example, said it was the sort of thing that makes you always want to look over your shoulder. Justice Alito talked about how it led to threats on justices' lives.

    I think, overall, that it definitely affected the interpersonal relationships within the court, not just among the justices and their clerks, but even the people who work there, especially after being investigated for this.

    And that — I think it's unfortunate, John, that the court — that the investigation did not find someone to hold responsible for this, because it continues a shadow over the court. There were a number of people who believed first that we might never hear about the results, that the court would never do what it did today, which was issue a report, and they should get credit for doing that.

    But, also, people felt that it might have been somebody — it might have been a justice or the spouse of a justice who did this. And without holding someone responsible, that suspicion is going to continue. And I think as well it will continue to affect the interpersonal relationships, perhaps not as much as they were affected last term, when things were still so raw.

    The court gets its work done and the justices work together. But I think it can't help but continue to cast a shadow over the institution, at a time when there are many shadows over many institutions in our government. And that's unfortunate.

  • John Yang:

    "NewsHour" Supreme Court analyst Marcia Coyle, thank you very much.

  • Marcia Coyle:

    My pleasure, John.

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