WASHINGTON (AP) — Chief Justice John Roberts on Tuesday confirmed the authenticity of a leaked draft opinion suggesting the Supreme Court may be poised to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade case that legalized abortion nationwide. He ordered an investigation into what he called an “egregious breach of trust.”
In the high court’s first public comment since the draft was published late Tuesday, Roberts said “Although the document described in yesterday’s reports is authentic, it does not represent a decision by the Court or the final position of any member on the issues in the case.”
In a statement, he said, “To the extent this betrayal of the confidences of the Court was intended to undermine the integrity of our operations, it will not succeed.”
He added: “I have directed the Marshal of the Court to launch an investigation into the source of the leak.”
President Joe Biden said Tuesday that the “basic fairness and the stability of our law demand” that the court not overturn Roe.
“If the court does overturn Roe, it will fall on our nation’s elected officials at all levels of government to protect a woman’s right to choose,” Biden said. “And it will fall on voters to elect pro-choice officials this November. At the federal level, we will need more pro-choice Senators and a pro-choice majority in the House to adopt legislation that codifies Roe, which I will work to pass and sign into law.”
Though past efforts have failed, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he intended to hold a vote.
“This is as urgent and real as it gets,” Schumer said on the Senate floor Tuesday. “Every American is going to see on which side every senator stands.”
Whatever the outcome, the Politico report late Monday represented an extremely rare breach of the court’s secretive deliberation process, and on a case of surpassing importance.
“Roe was egregiously wrong from the start,” the draft opinion states. It was signed by Justice Samuel Alito, a member of the court’s 6-3 conservative majority who was appointed by former President George W. Bush.
The document was labeled a “1st Draft” of the “Opinion of the Court” in a case challenging Mississippi’s ban on abortion after 15 weeks, a case known as Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
The court is expected to rule on the case before its term ends in late June or early July.
The draft opinion in effect states there is no constitutional right to abortion services. It would allow individual states to more heavily regulate or outright ban the procedure.
“We hold that Roe and Casey must be overruled,” it states, referencing the 1992 case Planned Parenthood v. Casey that affirmed Roe’s finding of a constitutional right to abortion services but allowed states to place some constraints on the practice. “It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives.”
A Supreme Court spokeswoman said the court had no comment, and The Associated Press could not immediately confirm the authenticity of the draft Politico posted, which dates from February.
Politico said only that it received “a copy of the draft opinion from a person familiar with the court’s proceedings in the Mississippi case along with other details supporting the authenticity of the document.”
The draft opinion strongly suggests that when the justices met in private shortly after arguments in the case on Dec. 1, at least five — all the conservatives except perhaps Chief Justice John Roberts — voted to overrule Roe and Casey, and Alito was assigned the task of writing the court’s majority opinion.
Votes and opinions in a case aren’t final until a decision is announced or, in a change wrought by the coronavirus pandemic, posted on the court’s website.