The Supreme Court has long been lauded as the pinnacle workplace of the legal profession. Its employees enjoy a collegial-meets-combative atmosphere wherein clerks and justices are free from the prying eyes of the public. Its employees regularly go onto plum private practice gigs with fat bonuses commensurate to their time spent denying rights to the plebs.
My god, since the leak of the abortion opinion draft in early May, the reported inner workings are turning the Court into a horrible screenplay about a naughty tech startup, and I can’t look away from the chaos. “I don’t know how on earth the Court is going to finish up its work this term,” one source close to the justices told NPR. Another source, who described the current atmosphere inside the marble palace said, “the place sounds like it’s imploding.”
But that’s just an anonymous source. Can it really be that bad? Yes, it can. Even Justice Clarence Thomas—a man best known for not speaking and then pretty much pushing his own wacko beliefs into precedent—wants the public to understand the Court is in crisis. “When you lose that trust, especially in the institution that I’m in, it changes the institution fundamentally,” Thomas said in a conversation with torture memos author John Yoo. “You begin to look over your shoulder. It’s like kind of an infidelity that you can explain it, but you can’t undo it.”
That infidelity, though, was never a crime. Leaking an opinion isn’t illegal, as opinion drafts are not classified documents; the Court simply keeps them secret.
This hasn’t stopped Court security (whose main duties are keeping justices safe, not investigating) from “taking steps to require law clerks to provide cell phone records and sign affidavits” attesting that they are not the source of the leak, CNN reported. It’s led to clerks exploring whether or not they need to hire outside counsel. Leaking the document isn’t illegal, but signing a false affidavit is a crime. Plus, clerks are trying to balance their desire for legal representation with the possibility that not cooperating could fuck up their future legal careers. Remember those plum partnerships and professorships?
Imagine worrying if your boss or your boss’s equally powerful colleague suspects you are guilty because you want a lawyer to advise you on your Fourth Amendment right to not turn over your phone. A right against unreasonable search and seizure, by the way, that was decided by your boss’s boss, Chief Justice John Roberts.
Honestly, this place sounds like an absolute nightmare full of stressed, type-A overachievers working under people who are enraged about the fact that they can’t just take away rights from everyone in peace.
As NPR reported:
The clerks, he explained, are sort of “the court’s diplomatic corps.” Especially at this time of year, they talk to each other, with the approval of their bosses, to find out how far the envelope can be pushed in this case or that one — or conversely, how can we soften language to get five justices on board. But at the moment, he noted, the clerks are terrified that their whole professional lives could be blown up, so they aren’t able to do that.
Oh no, what if this atmosphere keeps the justices from releasing opinions? What will we do then? Continue having a tenuous legal grip on abortion rights in America? Dang. Oh well! It’s much more important that the Supreme Court start working on its internal workings. After all, you never know when court expansion might become more politically tolerable. Maybe this is the time to unionize the Supreme Court clerks.
I, for one, personally love the gossip! It keeps me from curling into the fetal position every time a new opinion release day is announced. And if anybody wants to gossip about it....my secure email is firstname.lastname@example.org.