Supreme Court releases report on Dobbs leak but says it hasn’t identified leaker


The Supreme Court released an investigative report on Thursday, announcing that it has not yet determined whether the media was exposed last year to Roe v. Who leaked the draft opinion overturning Wade, but at one point at least 90 people had access to the document.

In a statement, the court said the investigation team “to date has been unable to identify the person responsible due to the preponderance of evidence.” It is unlikely that the leak was caused by a computer hack, the statement said.

Investigators said they conducted 126 formal interviews with 97 employees, all of whom declined to comment. They also conducted a fingerprint analysis, “looked closely at any connections between staff and reporters,” and “scrutinized any contact in particular with anyone associated with the politician.”

Dozens of people had access to the draft, the report said, with some staffers admitting they told their spouses about draft opinions or judges’ vote counts. While the report noted that there had been a breach of court confidentiality rules, it did not say whether this led to further investigation or disciplinary action.

The employees were asked to sign affidavits, under penalty of perjury, affirming that they had not disclosed the draft opinion and provided all “relevant information” relating to the draft’s disclosure. He was also asked to swear before a notary public the truth of the statements.

The leak — the worst breach of confidentiality in the court’s history — became public on May 2 when Politico published a draft opinion overturning the landmark 1973 decision that established a constitutional right to abortion. The revelation shocked the court and left some judges with a sense of paranoia within the confines of the marble-lined hallway. Shortly thereafter, on May 3, Chief Justice John Roberts issued a statement directing court marshal Gail Curley to investigate the leak.

Curley oversees about 260 employees, including the court’s police department, which has the power to arrest people.

In Thursday’s report, Curley concluded that “regardless of whether a person is ever identified or not,” the court should implement better policies regarding sensitive information.

“In time, continued investigation and analysis may generate additional leads that may identify the source of the disclosure,” Curley says. “Whether or not any individual is ever identified as the source of the disclosure, the Court should take action to create and implement better policies for handling sensitive information and to determine the best IT systems for security and collaboration.” ”

Later in May during an appearance in Atlanta, Roberts called the leak “absolutely appalling”. Justice Elena Kagan later called this a “clear, egregious violation of the rules of the court”, and Justice Clarence Thomas equated it to “infidelity”.

Many court watchers bemoaned Thursday the inability of investigators to identify a leaker and what it means for the court’s longstanding reputation.

“The current lack of closure means the controversy over the leak is likely to end with a whimper rather than a bang,” said Steve Vladek, a CNN Supreme Court analyst and professor at the University of Texas School of Law.

“But the bigger problem is that it does nothing to discredit any of their ancestors,” he said. “Progressives will still blame conservatives; Conservatives will still blame progressives; And everyone will keep doubting the other side – with the court stuck in the middle.

“It’s very frustrating if people want to know who was the leaker,” said Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law, adding the investigation was “useful in that he pointed to a number of recommendations”. . , Suggestions and thoughts on how the court can keep its draft views more secure and prevent them from leaking in the future.

Carrie Severino, president of the conservative Judicial Crisis Network and former clerk to Justice Clarence Thomas, blasted a series of “failed” investigations tweets, writing that “the report shows a gross failure of the Chief Justice in the administrative aspect of his role”.

Severino wrote, “We can only hope that this type of breach never happens again, but I fear that the failed investigation and lack of results for the leaker will encourage history to repeat itself.”

And Gabe Roth, whose group Fix the Courts advocates for greater transparency and ethical standards in the judiciary, told CNN that “It’s very clear to me that since the court was never going to find the culprit.”

He added: “The various intrusions we learned about in the report — looking at legal clerks’ Google history, downloading their phone data, and fingerprinting some of them — were unconscionable.”

The report concluded that it was unlikely that the leak was the result of a hack of the Supreme Court’s IT system.

“The court’s IT department has found no indication of a hack, but continues to monitor and audit systems for any indicators of compromise or intrusion into the court’s IT infrastructure,” the report said. Those who have special IT access privileges have accessed or transferred the draft opinion.

The report said investigators used information retrieved from the court’s IT system to identify persons of interest and conducted “several interviews with some employees”.

While investigators found that some staffers emailed draft opinions to other staffers with approval, “no evidence was found that anyone emailed the draft opinion to anyone else, although technical limitations in the Court’s computer recordkeeping at the time made it impossible to rule out.” Had made. The possibility completely.

The court’s system lacks “adequate logging and search functions,” the report noted, which hinders investigators’ ability to analyze IT logs.

According to the probe report, there were seventy users on the distribution list used to send the draft opinion on February 10. Eight additional people, all permanent personnel, received the draft via email on March 22. It was also circulated in hard copy, and 34 personnel confirmed that they had printed copies of the draft opinion and many had printed more than one copy.

Investigators collected court-issued laptops and mobile devices from all personnel who had access to the draft opinion, but found “no relevant information” from those devices, the report said.

Additionally, all employees were requested to voluntarily turn on call and text records from their personal phones “to the best of their abilities”.

“Investigators reviewed call and text logs, but found nothing relevant in the limited logs,” the report said.

The report clarified that Marshall’s office has hired “trained federal investigators”, but did not say whether they are current employees of other branches of government.

“The investigative team is comprised of experienced attorneys and trained federal investigators with substantial experience conducting criminal, administrative and cyber investigations,” the report said.

The court also “invited” Michael Chertoff, a former federal appeals judge and Secretary of Homeland Security, to “evaluate” the investigation.

In his own statement, Chertoff said his “review assesses that Marshall and his veteran investigators conducted the investigation thoroughly within their legal authorities, and while there is currently not sufficient evidence for prosecution or other legal action, there is Important insights were gained from the investigation on which action can be taken to avoid future incidents.

He listed four recommendations made to ensure future leaks do not occur, including “restricting distribution of hard copy versions of sensitive documents” and “limiting access to sensitive information on external mobile devices”.

On June 24, the opinion, which closely tracked the draft, was officially released – changing the landscape of women’s reproductive health nationwide. The decision opened the door for states to ban abortion outright, with limited exceptions. According to the Guttmacher Institute, as of December 2022, abortion is no longer available in 14 states and courts in eight other states have temporarily blocked enforcement of restrictions. Even in states where abortion is available, clinics are flooded with patients from other states.

The opinion was written by Justice Samuel Alito and joined by Justices Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Amy Coney Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh.

CNN’s Joan Biskupik reported exclusively that Curley’s team had asked law clerks who serve as judges for one-year terms to turn over cell phone data and sign affidavits related to possible disclosure of the leak. and requested electronic devices from some permanent employees who work with judges.

But by the middle of summer, as is the usual practice, most of the clerks who had served during the tenure had moved on to new jobs after completing their clerkships.

Rae triggered protests across the country, and a man near Kavanaugh’s home was picked up and later charged with attempted murder. Critics alleged that the institution was heavily tainted by politics.

The court at first remained silent about the investigation, opting not to release any official updates.

This story has been updated with additional details.

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