In my lifetime, I don’t think there has been a bigger national news leak than this week’s Politico story based on a leaked draft opinion indicating it is likely the Roe vs. Wade decision of 1973 will be overturned soon.
As a journalist, I like most leaks but I don’t like this one.
Roe vs. Wade, a U.S. Supreme Court decision, determined that women had a constitutional right to choose an abortion.
The leaked draft opinion, authored by Justice Samuel Alito, repudiates the landmark 1973 decision.
Chief Justice John Roberts has reminded everyone that it is not the final opinion. He called the leak a breach of trust and ordered an investigation.
Col. Gail A. Curley, the marshal of the United States Supreme Court, has the task of finding the leaker.
Curley does have a few clues. The draft copy appears to have been copied because the pages of type are slightly skewed; there appears to have been a staple removed in the upper left-hand corner; and the words “first draft” are highlighted in yellow.
This has never happened before.
Oddly enough, the final Roe vs. Wade decision was leaked to Time magazine by a court clerk. The story was supposed to have been embargoed until the court made the announcement through traditional channels.
But the court’s announcement was delayed and the article appeared hours before justices made it public. Warren Burger, chief justice at the time, was not happy.
This week’s leak, in my view, undermines the credibility of our third branch of government, the judiciary. Unlike the other two branches, the judiciary works best when some of its deliberations are shielded from transparency.
Justices have lifetime appointments and should be free of political pressure and throngs of enraged people shouting angry words outside the courthouse.
Now, increasingly, our top judges are more like candidates for Congress, who are more responsive to polling back home than the law of the land or enduring national interest.
In a nation divided, this leak makes us lose faith in yet another core institution in America.
Will we someday read about the FBI sting — RobeProbe — that catches one of the Supremes in a cash-for-opinion deal?
I thought it was leaked to me, but it wasn’t
I can’t say, as a journalist, that I have greatly benefited from news leaks over my career.
The instance that first comes to mind was not actually a leak, but I first thought it was.
I once worked with a reporter named Giacomo Bologna. He knew how to search for search warrants on the online federal database for court cases, Pacer. I did not. I had no idea you could retrieve a search warrant.
One day, on my desk was a manila envelope with words to the effect: “for Steve Pokin’s eyes only.”
It contained the results of a search warrant served at the residence of a Springfield man who owned an unusual house on Lone Pine Avenue that he had named “The African Queen.”
I had written about the house and its owner, and the owner’s growing legal problems. He has since died of cancer.
What Giacomo didn’t realize when he set that envelope on my desk was that the main FBI agent involved in the search warrant — his name was in the paperwork — was someone we had both met.
Giacomo, I and a few other media members in October 2018 participated in the “FBI Fitness Challenge,” along with two honest-to-goodness FBI agents. The test had four elements with a five-minute rest between them: sit-ups in 60 seconds; 300-meter dash; continuous push-ups; and 1.5-mile run.
I wrote a column about the challenge
It turned out that one of the two agents was the person who oversaw the search warrant at “The African Queen.”
I briefly thought this agent had leaked it to me. Imagine that! A leak from an FBI agent!
I had no idea why he would do that. Was it the sit-ups?
Well, in fact, he didn’t leak it to me. Giacomo had printed it out for me.
In a different situation, I covered the village of Bartlett, Illinois, decades ago. The village was in contract talks with the police union. The contract had expired and police were convinced the village was dragging its feet and not bargaining in good faith.
So, a designated officer leaked every development to me — which, I should note, also might be considered not bargaining in good faith.
After a board meeting, I approached the trustee on the village’s negotiating team and, once again, told him the latest I had heard about contract talks — which had been leaked to me — and asked him: Is that accurate? What’s the village’s response?
His response was far more personal than I had anticipated; he swung at my head.
I ducked; he missed — and the mayor threw him in a bear hug to end the aggression.
I like to think I won on points.
Finally, some of you might consider other leaks in the last 60 years more significant, including:
Watergate President Richard Nixon and his conspirators hid their involvement in the 1972 burglary attempt on the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate hotel.
As the 1972 presidential election approached, an anonymous source named “Deep Throat” fed Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward leaked info that the Watergate bugging stemmed from a widespread campaign of political spying and sabotage conducted on behalf of President Nixon and directed by White House officials.
Much later, “Deep Throat” was identified as William Mark Felt Sr., who died in 2008. He worked for the FBI from 1942 to 1973 and in 2005, at 91, told Vanity Fair magazine he was our nation’s most famous leaker.
The Pentagon Papers There was much the country didn’t know about the Vietnam war until 1971. That’s when Daniel Ellsberg leaked confidential government records from the Report of the Office of the Secretary of Defense Vietnam Task Force.
It revealed details of unreported expansions of America’s involvement in Vietnam and showed that multiple presidential administrations lied to the public about the war.
The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Ellsberg faced criminal charges for their efforts to get the papers to the public, but the Supreme Court eventually allowed further publication.
The Iraq War Logs (WikiLeaks) In 2010, leaked documents uncovered details about the Iraq War. Australian Julian Assange created the website WikiLeaks in 2006 with the goal of “analysis and publication of large datasets of censored or otherwise restricted official materials involving war, spying and corruption.”
Some 400,000 U.S. military documents were unveiled to the public, and with them came details of Iraqi civilian deaths, abuse of war prisoners, and Iran’s involvement in the war. It became the largest U.S. military leak at the time.
Edward Snowden and the National Security Agency The leaked documents detailed the NSA’s collection of personal data, including phone records, social media data and emails belonging to U.S. and non-U.S. citizens.
The leak revealed government security post-9/11, most of which the U.S. public knew nothing about.
Snowden was a former CIA contractor and had access to U.S. surveillance documents, which he stole before fleeing to Hong Kong.
This is Pokin Around column No. 34.