By Ross O’Keefe, Devin Rank, Ashkan Motamedi, Margaret Attridge, Chris Barylick, Julia Rosier and Tatyana Monnay
Capital News Service – Associate Justice Samuel Alito’s leaked draft of a potential ruling overturning the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision has rocked the nation’s capital and touched off a political uproar.
This is the first known incident where a draft Supreme Court decision has been leaked to the public. Chief Justice John Roberts confirmed the documents were authentic in a statement and said he has directed the court’s marshal to investigate the leak.
Roberts said the leak appears “intended to undermine the integrity of our operations, (and) it will not succeed. The work of the court will not be affected in any way.”
Democrats focused on the ramifications of Alito’s draft opinion, while Republicans appeared more upset about the consequences of the leak. Supporters of the Roe v. Wade ruling and opponents demonstrated for hours on the sidewalk in front of the Supreme Court – protests that certainly were loud enough for justices to hear in their offices.
President Joe Biden told reporters before a trip to Alabama that “if what is written is what remains, it goes far beyond the concern of whether or not there is the right to choose.”
“It goes to other basic rights: the right to marry, the right to determine a whole range of things. Because one of the issues that…a number of the members of the court have not acknowledged is that there is a right to privacy in our Constitution,” Biden said. “I strongly believe there is.”
The president earlier released a statement saying he would press to pass legislation codifying Roe v. Wade “and it will fall on voters to elect pro-choice officials this November.”
Vice President Kamala Harris said in a statement that “the rights of all Americans are at risk.”
“If the right to privacy is weakened, every person could face a future in which the government can potentially interfere in the personal decisions you make about your life,” Harris said. “This is the time to fight for women and for our country with everything we have.”
But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, told reporters that the story was the leak, which in Senate floor remarks he called “a shocking new breach.”
“Somebody, likely somebody inside the court, leaked a confidential internal draft to the press,” the senator charged. “Almost certainly in an effort to stir up an inappropriate pressure campaign to sway an outcome.”
“Liberals want to rip the blindfold off Lady Justice,” McConnell said. “They want to override impartiality with intimidation. They want to elevate mob rule over the rule of law.”
Roe v. Wade, which effectively legalized a woman’s right to abortion in the United States, has been challenged at multiple turns by anti-abortion activists. March For Life, an annual event conducted on the decision’s anniversary, has mobilized abortion opponents and capitalized on alliances with GOP politicians to enact state bans.
President Donald Trump’s appointment of three conservative justices – Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett – shifted the balance on the court, for the first time putting the nearly 50-year abortion ruling in jeopardy.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland, spoke to demonstrators in front of the Supreme Court, calling Alito’s draft decision “a wakeup call across the country.”
“I think that now we are talking about a court decision that could take away a woman’s right to choose to take away our reproductive freedom and take away the right to a safe and legal abortion,” Van Hollen said in an interview with Capital News Service after his remarks. “I think you’re gonna see a huge grassroots response, because for years, this threat has been implicit, but now it’s very, very real.”
Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Maryland, warned in a statement that “if the draft opinion striking down Roe v. Wade stands, it will put the health, well-being and constitutional rights of women across this nation in great jeopardy.”
“Should the court continue on this path, people in more than half of the states would immediately lose access to safe, legal abortion,” he said. “Low-income families and those without the means to leave their homes for care in states like Maryland will be the most burdened.”
Protesters and counter-protesters crowded in front of the Supreme Court building Monday night and most of the day Tuesday.
“I’m hoping to see Justice Alito, his opinion, be not taken and to see all of this dissent that’s occurring out here and all of this protest that’s occurring, have it really make a difference and really sway the Supreme Court’s vote,” said Ellie Small, a student from Salem, New Hampshire and an abortion rights supporter.
Margaret Moerchen, of Washington, also was prompted to join demonstrators.
“When I read the news last night, I was sad more than anything and that gateway led to anger,” she said. “I don’t think this is a government decision. I think it’s a woman’s right to decide. And there’s a lot of talk about the health of the baby, but no talk about the health of the woman or the child that’s born afterward.”
“It’s really hard to process right now,” said Heather Priest, of Los Angeles. “I feel like I saw it coming in 2016 but I was born before Roe v. Wade. I never thought that the women behind me would have fewer rights.”
But Savanna Deretich, with the Students for Life of America, supported the apparent direction of the court.
“We believe all human beings deserve the right to life, no matter what stage your age and the Constitution, abortion is not written in invisible link,” she said.
“We believe that we should protect human life at all stages. Whereas the pro-abortion side actually has no consistent argument,” Deretich said. “They all say that life begins at different stages. They never have one argument, but we all agree life begins at conception…the other side has, they don’t know when life begins.“
Up to 26 states are expected to outlaw abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion research organization.
Some Democratic lawmakers and strategists believe overturning Roe v Wade could change the dynamics of the upcoming November midterm elections, in which their party is expected to lose seats in the House and Senate.
“Republicans are spending all their focus on the leak because they don’t want to focus on Roe v. Wade, where they know they are on the wrong side of history and on the wrong side of the American people,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, said at a press conference on the United States Capitol steps, surrounded by a host of Democratic senators.
“The blame for this decision falls squarely on Senate Republicans, who spent years pushing extremist judges and justices while claiming this day would never come. But come it has,” Schumer said.
He said he would press for a Senate vote on legislation that would codify in law the right to an abortion.