Chief Justice John Roberts calls Roe leak ‘absolutely appalling’ in first public comments

Chief justice has emerged as furious critic of leak

John Bowden
Thursday 05 May 2022 23:47
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Roe v Wade protesters speak out about Supreme Court plan to drop abortion law

US Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts is continuing to defend the high court’s proclaimed apolitical nature even as it looks poised to strip away abortion rights that have been on the books for more than four decades, and is beset by an unprecedented leak and claims of political corruption.

Mr Roberts spoke on Thursday to a gathering of the 11th Circuit Judicial Conference, which included lawyers and fellow judges, and referred to the leak of a draft decision to Politico, unheard of in modern history, as “absolutely appalling”.

He added, according to CNN, which first reported the comments, that if “one bad apple” thought they could deter the work of the court with a leak, they were “foolish”.

The chief justice has previously said that the leak should be criminally investigated, calling it a “singular and egregious breach of the trust that is an affront to the court and the community of public servants who work here”. A number of Republican senators, meanwhile, have homed in on the leak of the draft opinion rather than focusing on the real world implictions if abortion access is severley curtailed.

It’s unclear if the identity of the leaker will ever be made public or if they will face repercussions, but Justice Roberts’ remarks did not even briefly touch on the growing argument from many on the left that has been aimed at the court in recent days: The idea that the court’s legitimacy, which Mr Roberts has loudly insisted is intact, was shattered not by the leaker but by the court itself.

The Supreme Court faces record-low approval ratings from the American public, and those polls were taken before the news that the court is apparently weeks away from ripping away abortion rights for millions of American women. In addition, the chief justice has remained completely silent about the shocking revelation that Ginni Thomas, wife of Justice Clarence Thomas, was actively involved in discussions with Trump White House officials who were trying to overturn the 2020 election. Mr Thomas has presided over several cases and rulings related to the 2020 election without recusal.

The atmosphere of doubt surrounding the court and Mr Roberts’ new statement raises questions as to where the court’s chief justice believes a line should be drawn regarding how politicised the institution can become before it loses legitimacy, as well as whether those views about the court’s legitimacy held by Mr Roberts truly reflect an understanding of the situation.

Supreme Court justices rarely, if ever, face questions from journalists and as thus the court has been tight-lipped about the growing list of controversies enveloping the bench.

President Joe Biden recently oversaw the successful confirmation of the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court, Ketanji Brown Jackson, who will take a seat on the bench in the next term following Justice Stephen Breyer’s retirement.

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