Supreme Court

Revealed: The Supreme Court Has Had More Leaks Than a Flomax Convention


Over at Slate, journalism prof Jonathan Peters reminds us that for all of last week's outrage and suprise regarding secret tales of Supreme Court deliberations, the nation's highest court has a long history of press leaks, including in cases such as Dred ScottRoe v. Wade, and the convictions of Watergate felons.


The 1970s brought a wave of leaks at the Supreme Court. First, Justice William O. Douglas in June 1972 wrote a memo to his colleagues about Roe v. Wade. Somehow, it reached theWashington Post, which published a story about the memo and the court's inner deliberations. Douglas, already on vacation at his summer home, was assumed to be the leaker. He wrote to Chief Justice Warren Burger that he was "upset and appalled" and had "never breathed a word" about the case to "anyone outside the Court."

The leaks didn't stop. In fact, Time published a story about the Roe v. Wade decision before the court announced it, reporting the outcome and the 7-2 vote. Infuriated, Burger demanded a meeting with Time's editors, chastising them for scooping the court. The chief justice believed a law clerk was to blame, so he ordered all of the clerks not to speak to reporters. This resulted in what became known as the "20-second rule:" Any clerk caught talking to a reporter would be fired within 20 seconds.  

"The court," writes Peters, "just like our other public institutions, is made up of political animals. We shouldn't be shocked when they act that way."

Whole thing.

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  1. See, the SC should be run as the CIA, they never leak.

  2. Revealed: The Supreme Court Has Had More Leaks Than a Flomax Convention

    A Flomax convetion sounds just awful.

  3. I think Apple Computer does a better job of protecting secrets than the government. Maybe the SC should be renamed the iCourt.

    1. Robot Mayor: Your Honor, I intend to demonstrate beyond 0.5% of a doubt that these humans before us are guilty of the crime of being humans. Come to think of it, I rest my case.
      Judge: Thank you, Prosecutor. I will now consider the evidence. [He begins to consider. A blue bar moves across his screen.]

      1. "Welcome to a very special human hunt! We have with us today a guest whose irrational hatred for humans makes me look like a human sympathizer!"

        1. "I'll tell you, with my final breath. I came here with a simple dream: a dream of killing all humans. And this is how it must end? I ask you, who's the real seven billion ton robot monster here? Not I... Not I"

    2. Not even Steve Jobs wanted to lock us down the way the court does.

  4. IIRC, there's a buncha stuff in the Lincoln-Douglas debates about whether Buchanan had advance knowledge of the Dred Scott ruling.

  5. I still think the "leak" angle to the Roberts court is overblown. This is more of a case of one press outlet trying to outscoop the other, and in doing so they release a story that hints at a "leak" but doesn't really leak anything.

    Clearly the Roe.V.Wade leaks were terrible, but I don't see where the same thing happened with the Roberts court. In fact, there were few if any pundits or reporters that even came close to predicting the outcome of the Obamacare case.

    1. In fact, there were few if any pundits or reporters that even came close to predicting the outcome of the Obamacare case.

      Which shows just how contrived Roberts' opinion was. We are still speculating on his true motives in the matter. 20 years from now maybe he'll tell us what he was really trying to do...

      1. so he couldn't simply write his opinion so we could see what was in it? Maybe in 20 years, he'll understand his own motivation.

        1. The opinion he wrote makes little sense. None of the other justices supported it. (4 would have held the mandate unconstitutional, the other 4 would have held it constitutional under the commerce clause.) If memory serves, none of the circuit or appeals courts supported it. He's pretty much the only person on earth who supports that opinion.

          I'm not saying he doesn't understand his true motivation. I'm just saying he neglected to pass it along to the rest of us.

          1. that just makes it even worse - one guy, for reasons known only to him, makes law that applies to 300+ million.

        2. roberts was probably convinced by the original heritage writings championing the individual mandate.

    2. It's more of a case of people on the left making a big fuss out of post-decision leaks, to draw attention away from the pre-decision leaks.

      They don't want people to figure out that Roberts switched his vote under political pressure. And they particularly don't want anyone investigating how exactly certain people knew which Justice to target.

  6. So? Is this evidence for or against the assertion that the regime is illegitimate?

  7. TIL:

    A 'shrike' is a small bird known for killing insects and then spearing them on plant thorns. The thorns help the bird tear the insect apart and also hold the insect remains so that the bird can return later for seconds.

    It's also an obsolete air-to-ground missile designed to destroy active radio transmitters (like RADAR systems).

    Just another small window into a hubris-ridden mind.

  8. Homer Simpson: Hmmm, Burger.

  9. The problem come in when someone leaks the vote before the opinion is written, and uses that knowledge to impose political pressure to change the outcome of the case.

    Which it appears is possibly what happened with Roberts' change of vote on the individual mandate.

    Someone knew the Roberts was the wobbly one, rather than Kennedy.

    I don't quite understand why people on the left would be outraged about leaks about what occurred during deliberations happening after the decision came out, except for the fact that they don't want anyone to KNOW that Roberts vote was leaked and that information was used to pressure him to change it.

    1. as the Chief Justice, Roberts was the only one at whom Obama's veiled threats were aimed. Kennedy has been there long enough to ignore bullshit; Scalia, Alito, and Thomas were unfazed; the four liberals would have voted to uphold regardless of what term was used for the mandate.

      1. Even if that term was "Republican"?

      2. The conventional wisdom was that Kennedy was the swing vote.

        For some reason, they chose Roberts to threaten instead.

        I smell a fish.

        1. It's nothing more than speculation that he actually did change his mind.

          The entire scenario that he bowed before progressive political pressure sounds more to me like a conservative's way of trying to rationalize his decision than it does anything plausible.

  10. lol, the Supreme Kangaroo Court is a joke. Bought and paid for like any other US politician.

    1. Is it just me or is anon-bot getting better at this every day?

      1. he beats the crap out of the get-rich-on-google-bot, thats for sure.

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