SCOTUS leaks are rare but not unprecedented

By Jonathan Peters
This is the front end of a Slate essay I published. Follow me@jonathanwpeters on Twitter.

The Supreme Court isn’t supposed to be like other institutions. It’s supposed to be something more, a place above partisan squabbling, insulated from the unseemly back and forth of politics. The court’s nine justices are the final arbiters of our biggest legal questions, and much of their work is supposed to be done behind closed doors. They hold oral arguments and release decisions—and remain a mystery to most people.

That’s what made CBS’s Jan Crawford’s story on July 1 so shocking. Crawford reported that Chief Justice John Roberts voted to strike down the heart of the Affordable Care Act before changing his mind and siding with the court’s liberal bloc. Her story cited “two sources with specific knowledge of the deliberations” among the justices, and it noted that Roberts’ “switch” was “known among law clerks, chambers’ aides and secretaries.

The collective reaction of pundits and legal commentators seemed to be, gasp, “How could this happen? How could the Supreme Court leak?” Harvard Law School’s Jack Goldsmith had just argued that the court is typically “better at stopping leaks” than other government institutions. Time’s Adam Sorensen described Crawford’s story as a “once-in-a-lifetime scoop.” Robert Shrum, like many others, described the leak as “unprecedented.” Meanwhile, Orin Kerr, a law professor at George Washington University, wrote on the legal blog The Volokh Conspiracy that “the leak is pretty incredible” and that he “can’t remember anything quite like” it.

No doubt the leak is incredible, and no doubt the justices are good at keeping secrets. But there is nothing unprecedented about the Supreme Court dishing on what happens behind the red curtain. The court has a long and colorful history of leaks that dates back to the mid-19th century.

For more, go here (Slate).


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