Top Democrats in North Carolina are mum on a major breach of decorum in the leak of a draft opinion in a major national abortion case at the U.S. Supreme Court, a violation of unprecedented magnitude.
While Republicans are roundly denouncing the leak and calling for an investigation, Democrats are taking a “nothing to see here” approach. Attempts by Carolina Journal to reach Gov. Roy Cooper, Attorney General Josh Stein, and Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate Cheri Beasley for comment specifically on the leak were not successful Tuesday afternoon. All three Democrats have issued statements criticizing the draft ruling, but none have commented on the leak.
N.C. Chief Justice Paul Newby, a Republican, sent a statement to CJ underscoring the work of an independent judiciary.
“Confidentiality is foundational to the legal profession and, in particular, to the work of the courts,” Newby said. “The integrity of a multi-member court’s decision-making process relies on the longstanding tradition of confidential deliberations. Unwavering trust among court members and staff is vital to maintaining that confidentiality. Integrity once lost is difficult, if not impossible, to recover.”
U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts announced on Tuesday that the draft opinion is real but that the court has not issued a final decision on the matter. Roberts also denounced the leak and called for an investigation.
“This was a singular and egregious breach of that trust that is an affront to the Court and the community of public servants who work here. I have directed the Marshal of the Court to launch an investigation into the source of the leak,” Roberts said in a statement. “To the extent this betrayal of the confidences of the Court was intended to undermine the integrity of our operations, it will not succeed. The work of the Court will not be affected in any way.”
Some Democrats are bristling at the notion that the leaker should be held accountable.
“What should be investigated and prosecuted is the fact that people who were nominated to the Supreme Court stood up and said they believed in the rule of law and precedent, and then at first opportunity, changed direction by 180 degrees and are going for a full repeal of Roe,” said U.S. Sen Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts.
Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, called the leak “yet another escalation in the left’s ongoing campaign to bully and intimidate federal judges and substitute mob rule for the rule of law.”
McConnell called out President Biden, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer for refusing “to defend judicial independence and the rule of law and instead play into this toxic spectacle. Real leaders should defend the Court’s independence unconditionally.”
Judicial experts weigh in
Jon Guze, senior fellow in legal studies at the John Locke Foundation, called the leak “a truly shocking breach of confidentiality” and said the action is another example of “people putting their tribal commitments above the good of the country and its institutions.”
Guze added, “It’ll be hard for the court to recover, and it won’t recover unless Roberts can track down the source of the leak, ensure that everyone involved is severely punished, and take steps to stop the leaks once and for all. And that’s assuming the leaker wasn’t a justice or a clerk. If the leak occurred because of an ethical lapse by a member of that inner circle, then impeachment would certainly be in order, and God only knows what it would take to restore a semblance of trust and collegiality within the court.”
Campbell University law professor Greg Wallace said that justices need confidentiality and trust when formulating rulings to give a “full and fair hearing” to the cases they hear.
Wallace added his emotions when he first heard of the leak: “You can use all the words: Shocked. Dismayed. Astonished. Angered. I ran through the gamut of those emotions, because this is just not supposed to happen.”
“Trust will be the first casualty in this situation,” added Mark Martin, dean of the Regent University School of Law and former chief justice of the N.C. Supreme Court.
N.C. Republicans respond
While praising the contents of the draft ruling that would return the decision over abortion law to the states, North Carolina Republicans have been up in arms over the way the draft was leaked.
“Yesterday’s leak is an unprecedented attempt to undermine the institution of the United States Supreme Court,” said U.S. Rep. David Rouzer of the state’s 7th congressional district in a statement. “I will remain committed to upholding the value of every life & will continue fighting to protect the most vulnerable among us.”
The three leading Republican candidates for the open U.S. Senate seat in North Carolina have also chimed in.
“This unprecedented leak was wrong and damages the Supreme Court,” said Congressman Ted Budd, the current frontrunner in the GOP primary. “I continue to pray that the justices reach a decision that upholds the sanctity of life and guarantees the right to life for innocent unborn children.”
“On the threshold of victory,” tweeted former Congressman Mark Walker. “Most likely a few weeks before the court’s holding will published. Keep praying and speaking for those who cannot speak for themselves.”
At a press conference, former Gov. Pat McCrory was quoted as saying, “I am not going to respond to a breach of constitutional protocol. If I respond to that it sets a horrible precedent on Supreme Court decisions.”