It’s About Time the Free Press Punctured the Supreme Court’s Veil of Secrecy

The following focuses on an opinion article by Jack Shafer, Politico’s senior media writer.

Two Politico reporters plastered the internet this week with the scoop of their lives, puncturing the Supreme Court’s sacrosanct veil of secrecy.

The leak of Justice Samuel Alito’s draft opinion that appears to reverse 1973’s Roe v. Wade decision was a jolt felt around the country, and described by many as very bad for those inside the walls of the high court.

Although leaks have trickled out of the court before, this disclosure is a big deal prompting Chief Justice John Roberts to issue an investigation into the source of the leak, calling it “an affront to the Court.”

But the court has long occupied a sacred and mythic place in the national consciousness, a place that the court itself has cultivated. Although the justices are political appointees, the court pretends to rise above politics. It conducts its work under a veil and depends on the press to fetishize the mysteries of the temple.

It derives its authority not from the people but from the cosmos, the court’s deifiers would have you believe. Hence the robes that rival Batman’s cape, the court’s ban on cameras and the grand edifice from which it hands down its rulings. But this exalted view of the court, we must remind ourselves, is not a part of the natural order. It is of the court’s creation. 

The POLITICO exclusive did the nation a service by ignoring the magic fairy dust that envelops the court to take an overdue look at the court’s decision-making process. The story was all the more warranted because if we had a viable Congress, it would have sorted out the legality of abortion by now. Instead, we’ve shunted to the Supreme Court the job of legislating what the abortion law should be. Viewed from that angle, the POLITICO scoop is less an intrusion into the Supreme Court’s sanctified domain than it is an investigation into a piece of evolving legislation.

The leak has obviously dinged the Supremes’ legal supremacy for the moment. They will recover. But the upside of the leak is grand. The public has gained a new awareness of where a court majority plans to take the nation after a half-century of legal abortion. Getting a two- or three-month preview of that plan in a midterm year straight from the horse’s pen amounts to a journalistic coup of the highest order. The government works to keep you in the dark. The press to shine the light. Heaven bless the press.

See the entire opinion here at Politico.

NPR also covered how the ‘Roe v. Wade’ leak has drawn attention to how journalists cover the Supreme Court. Listen below.