Chief Justice Roberts Stressed Dangers To The Supreme Court — Here’s Why Experts Think They Could Get Worse

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Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts issued his annual report Saturday that placed a significant emphasis on the need for the courts to remain objective despite hostility from the public, and raised questions as to how continued harassment and intimidation of Supreme Court justices could impact future decisions, legal experts told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

Roberts released his report following a tumultuous year that saw the Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization leak, the overturning of Roe v. Wade and an assassination attempt on Justice Brett Kavanaugh, as well as frequent protests and harassment of Supreme Court justices. However, if breaches of judicial confidentiality, such as the infamous leak of the court’s Dobbs opinion, continue to occur, justices could be more subject to intimidation and influence, experts told the Daily Caller News Foundation. (RELATED: ‘A Disastrous Effect’: Landmark Supreme Court Case Could Muzzle The Internet, Experts Warn)

“A judicial system cannot and should not live in fear,” Roberts wrote, thanking Congress for beefing up judicial security.

Carrie Severino, president of the Judicial Crisis Network and a former law clerk for Justice Clarence Thomas, stated that she believes the justices take their oaths to “uphold the Constitution” seriously, but argued it is unfair to ask them and their families to be subjected to frequent abuse.

“One of the real concerns about a leak is it seemingly aimed at precisely the type of intimidation of justices that would make them base their decisions on fear rather than on their own legal conclusions,” Severino said. “I am optimistic that the justices are doing everything they can to avoid being influenced by those fears, but we have to recognize that this is a very serious moment for the court when there are people actively advocating for justices to rule based not on their legal conclusions, but based on their concern for their own safety and that of their families.”

GianCarlo Canaparo, senior legal fellow at the Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at the Heritage Foundation, also acknowledged the concerning precedent that would be set if the Dobbs leaker were not brought to justice. Between the potential of future leaks, the safety threats and the “hellish” confirmation process, as seen with Justice Brett Kavanaugh and Justice Amy Coney Barrett, potential nominees might be dissuaded from ascending to the highest court in the land.

“Let’s say for instance the leaker just did it out of anger, they just wanted to poke the justices in the eye for issuing an opinion that this leaker disagreed with, that incentive is always going to be there, even if they don’t think they can change the outcome, but the incentive is diminished if the leaker is caught and publicly punished,” Canaparo explained.

Justice Samuel Alito discussed how the past year had impacted the court during an event at Heritage in October 2022, describing the leak and the subsequent events that followed as “a grave betrayal of trust” and a “shock.” He argued it emboldened those who wish to change Supreme Court opinions through intimidation and even violence.

“It certainly changed the atmosphere at the court for the remainder of the last term,” Alito explained. “The leak also made those of us who were thought to be in the majority in support of overruling Roe and Casey targets for assassination because it gave people a rational reason to think they could prevent that from happening by killing one of us.”

In Roberts’ report, he emphasized the tension surrounding the courts following the decision regarding Brown v. Board of Education and in the case of the Little Rock Nine, when nine black students were sent to Little Rock Central High School in accordance with desegregation laws. U.S. District Judge Ronald N. Davies faced extreme opposition to rule in favor of Gov. Orval Eugene Faubus of Arkansas, who vehemently opposed desegregation, unlike the circumstances of 2022.

“I have a constitutional duty and obligation from which I shall not shrink,” Roberts wrote, quoting Davies’ statement on the case. “In an organized society, there can be nothing but ultimate confusion and chaos if court decrees are flaunted.”

Roberts thanked Congress for providing funding for emergency security for the justices in the report, pointing to the lessons of the case in Little Rock that “teach about the importance of rule by law instead of by mob.”

Canaparo argued that Roberts’ real message was found in what Roberts didn’t mention in the report, namely the Dobbs leak, Kavanaugh’s near assassination and the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

“In the year-end report, the Chief Justice doesn’t even mention any of those things and the beauty of the Chief Justices’ writing is that he doesn’t have to,” Canaparo said. “Everyone knows that the Chief Justice is drawing a connection to the present day but he doesn’t have to do it explicitly.”

Canaparo also pointed out that, despite the growing pressure to conform to public opinion, Robert’s report indicates his belief that the court will do what it can to continue to fulfill its judicial role.

“You can clearly see in the Chief Justice’s statement here that he has put the justices standing up to threats of violence and assassination on the right side of history by comparing those jusstices who stand up to those threats to Judge Davies who did the same thing,” Canaparo stated.

The Supreme Court did not respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.

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