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Supreme Court offers update on investigation into leaked abortion ruling

The Supreme Court said in a new statement that investigators have been unable to identify the person responsible for the leak

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Pedestrians walk past the Supreme Court building on Capitol Hill.

Pedestrians walk past the Supreme Court building on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023.

Patrick Semansky, Associated Press

Eight months after an unprecedented leak of a draft of the Supreme Court’s abortion decision, the court is still searching for answers about how the leak occurred.

In a statement released Thursday, the court detailed its internal investigation into who leaked the draft of the majority opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization and noted that investigators have yet to find a smoking gun.

“The team has to date been unable to identify a person responsible by a preponderance of the evidence,” the statement said.

The investigation, which was undertaken by the marshal of the Supreme Court and her staff, has so far involved “diligent analysis of forensic evidence and interviews of almost 100 employees,” according to the statement. Although the team followed up on several leads, it has not yet been able to find the answers it seeks.

The statement also noted that Michael Chertoff, the former Secretary of Homeland Security who also previously served as a federal judge, has reviewed the investigation files and deemed the effort to be “thorough.” Like the Supreme Court team, he was unable to identify any major avenues of investigation that still need to be explored.

The court’s effort to identify the leaker began soon after the draft opinion appeared in Politico on May 2. In addition to sharing the full text of the leaked draft that night, Politico also published an article that noted how rare leaks have been in the history of the Supreme Court.

“No draft decision in the modern history of the court has been disclosed publicly while a case was still pending,” the article said.

In the weeks after Politico published its bombshell report detailing the Supreme Court’s apparent plans to overturn Roe v. Wade, conservative justices faced protests outside their homes and violent threats. There were also large rallies outside the Supreme Court building, which led law enforcement to put up a temporary fence.

The Supreme Court ultimately handed down its decision in the Dobbs case about seven weeks after Politico published the leaked draft. The majority opinion, authored by Justice Samuel Alito, did not depart significantly from the version that was shared in May.

In the new statement, the Supreme Court noted that the investigation into the leak is still ongoing, although it implied the hope of finding a culprit has dimmed. In the weeks and months ahead, investigators will “review and process some electronic data” and follow-up on whatever new leads emerge.

The statement reiterated the court’s sense that leaking an opinion draft is an assault on the “judicial process.”

“It is no exaggeration to say that the integrity of judicial proceedings depends on the inviolability of internal deliberations,” the statement said.