Pro-abortion rights protesters protest outside the United States Supreme Court as the court rules in the Dobbs v. Women’s Health Organization abortion case, overturning the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion decision, in Washington, United States, June 24, 2022.
Jim Castle | Reuters
An investigation into the leak of a Supreme Court bombshell ruling overturning federal abortion rights — weeks before it was officially released — failed to identify the culprit, the court said Thursday.
The inconclusive end of the inquiry was further embarrassment for the Supreme Court, which described the leak as “one of the worst breaches of trust in its history” and “a grave assault on the judicial process”.
Investigators interviewed nearly 100 court officials in the investigation, 82 of whom had access to electronic or printed copies of Conservative Judge Samuel Alito’s draft majority opinion.
However, according to an official report, neither Alito nor the other eight judges of the court were observed during the investigation.
Politico reported on May 2 that it had received a leaked copy of an advisory opinion showing the Supreme Court was ready to overturn its five-decade-old ruling in the Roe v. Wade’s known case which found there was a constitutional right to abortion. This draft was first circulated among the judges of the court and their clerks on February 10.
After the leak, Chief Justice John Roberts directed Supreme Court Marshal Gail Curley to investigate the disclosure.
In June, the Supreme Court, in a majority opinion authored by Alito, said there was no federal right to abortion — just as the leak showed.
The opinion came in a case called Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, who challenged Mississippi’s restrictive abortion law.
The Supreme Court, in publishing Curley’s report on the inquiry Thursday, said: “In pursuing all available leads … the Marshal’s team conducted additional forensic analysis and conducted several follow-up interviews with certain employees.”
“But the team has not been able to identify anyone responsible through a preponderance of evidence,” the court said.
Curley’s 20-page report suggests the treat was almost certainly a member of the court staff.
She noted that “the investigation has shown that it is highly unlikely that any person outside the court accessed the court’s information technology (IT) systems unlawfully.”
Associate Justice Samuel Alito poses during a group photo of Supreme Court justices in Washington, April 23, 2021.
Erin Schaff | swimming pool | Reuters
Curley said investigators examined the court’s computer equipment, networks, printers and “available call and text logs.”
But “Investigators have found no forensic evidence to indicate who published the draft opinion,” Curley wrote.
She noted that her team of attorneys and federal investigators “conducted 126 formal interviews with 97 employees, all of whom declined to disclose comment.”
The report said that after initial interviews with court officials, each staffer was asked to sign an affidavit stating that they did not disclose Dobbs’ draft opinion to anyone not employed by the Supreme Court.
Some staffers admitted they told their spouses about the draft or the judges’ vote count in the case, the report said.
Curley also wrote that among other steps taken in the investigation, “the investigative team received outside assistance with a fingerprint analysis of an item relevant to the investigation.”
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“This analysis revealed usable fingerprints but no matches to fingerprints of interest,” the report said, without disclosing the nature of the item examined.
Curley said several inquiries are pending in her investigation.
“To the extent additional investigations uncover new evidence or leads, investigators will pursue them,” she added.
In its statement, the Supreme Court said that after Curley’s investigation concluded, the court asked former federal judge, prosecutor and Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff to rule on the investigation.
Chertoff “has informed that the Marshal ‘conducted a thorough investigation’ and ‘[a]”At this time I cannot identify any additional useful investigative actions that have not been conducted or are ongoing,” the court said.
In her report, Curley wrote that the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting increase in court staff’s ability to work from home “as well as gaps in the court’s security policies have created an environment where it has been too easy sensitive information to be removed from the building and the court’s IT networks.”
This, in turn, increases “the risk of both intentional and inadvertent disclosure of court confidential information,” the report said.
Curley wrote that “too many” court officials have access to sensitive documents and that there is “no universal written policy or guidance” to protect draft opinions.
She also asked the court to address weaknesses in the court’s current method of destroying sensitive documents. And she wrote that the court’s “information security guidelines are outdated and need to be clarified and updated.”