Is Unauthorized Dissemination of a Draft Supreme Court Opinion a Federal Crime? [May 10, 2022]   [open pdf - 901KB]

From the Document: "On May 2, 2022, it was first reported that a news organization had obtained a draft Supreme Court majority opinion in 'Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization' and received confirmation from [hyperlink] 'a person familiar with the court's proceedings' in the case. The Court subsequently authenticated [hyperlink] the draft opinion, and Chief Justice Roberts ordered an internal investigation. Beyond discussion of the substance of the draft opinion and its implications for the constitutional right recognized in 'Roe v. Wade'--and setting aside potential [hyperlink] employment or professional consequences for the person or persons who shared the draft--a number [hyperlink] of commentators [hyperlink] have questioned [hyperlink] whether the act of providing [hyperlink] the draft opinion to a media organization was a federal crime. Several Members of the House Oversight Committee wrote a letter [hyperlink] to the Attorney General on May 3, 2022, calling for, among other things, a Department of Justice investigation and a briefing on 'whether criminal charges are being considered against the individual or individuals responsible for this breach.' Although federal law does prohibit the dissemination of certain kinds of government information [hyperlink]--such as 'classified' information related to national security--there does not appear to be a federal criminal statute expressly prohibiting unauthorized sharing of Supreme Court documents like draft opinions. [...] The provenance of the disclosure is unknown, so the laws addressed in this Legal Sidebar may or may not apply depending on the facts. [...] As relevant to the disclosure itself, this Legal Sidebar will briefly describe three federal criminal provisions that have been cited by commentators in the context of apparently unauthorized Supreme Court information dissemination and identify some of the potential issues that application of each of those laws could raise."

Report Number:
CRS Legal Sidebar, LSB10741
Public Domain
Retrieved From:
Congressional Research Service: https://crsreports.congress.gov/
Media Type:
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