SCOTUS Justices Speak on Court's Legitimacy and Dobbs Leak

Ahead of the 2022-2023 Supreme Court term, Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Elena Kagan, and Justice Neil Gorsuch are speaking up about the legitimacy of the Supreme Court after the Court's decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade, was leaked earlier this year. Chief Justice Roberts spoke to a group of lawyers and judges last week where he specifically addressed those who seek to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the Supreme Court simply because they disagree with its decisions:

Chief Justice John Roberts said disagreement with the Supreme Court’s decisions is “not a basis for criticizing the legitimacy of the court,” on Friday in his first public remarks since the Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

“The Court has always decided controversial cases and decisions always have been subject to intense criticism and that is entirely appropriate,” Roberts said at a conference of judges and lawyers in Colorado Springs, per the Washington Post.

He also acknowledged the turmoil surrounding the Dobbs decision explaining that “it was gut-wrenching every morning to drive into a Supreme Court with barricades around it.”

Justice Kagan took a different approach when speaking to Temple Emanu-El’s Streicker Center for a conversation:

Kagan suggested Monday that how the court is perceived by the public is vital to its legitimacy.

“I think judges create legitimacy problems for themselves – undermine their legitimacy – when they don’t act so much like courts and when they don’t do things that are recognizably law,” she said.

And while Justice Roberts did not directly comment on the leaked Dobbs draft opinion, Justice Kagan explicitly addressed the issue:

Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan called the unprecedented leak of a draft opinion striking down Roe v. Wade last term “horrible” and said she expects justices to be given a status update by the end of the month on an investigation into the leak.

“I don’t know anything. I suspect my colleagues don’t know anything, except for the chief justice maybe, about what the investigation has turned up if anything,” she said of Chief Justice John Roberts and the probe he launched late last spring. But she called the leak “shocking” and an “obvious, blatant violation of the court’s rules.

Comments by Justice Neil Gorsuch last week also suggest that the investigation of the leak will be completed soon:

“The chief justice appointed an internal committee to oversee the investigation,” Gorsuch said Thursday at the tenth Circuit Bench and Bar Conference in Colorado, the Wall Street Journal reported. “That committee has been busy and we’re looking forward to their report, I hope soon.” 

The 2022-2023 Supreme Court term will begin the first week of October. Important issues before the Court include affirmative action and redistricting.