Idaho abortion case document 'inadvertently' posted on SCOTUS website ahead of decision's release

 June 28, 2024

In a bizarre echo of a similar incident in 2022, Wednesday saw the leak of a highly anticipated opinion from the U.S. Supreme Court ahead of its official release.

As NBC News reports, officials at the high court admitted that a document was inadvertently -- and briefly -- posted to the institution's website, which appeared to reveal the justices' decision in a closely watched abortion case.

SCOTUS document leaked

Court watchers were shocked on Wednesday when a draft of the justices' opinion in the consolidated matters of Moyle v. U.S. and Idaho v. U.S. appeared on the SCOTUS website.

Though it was taken down from the site in relatively swift fashion, Bloomberg Law took note of its presence and posted the information before it was removed.

SCOTUS spokesperson Patricia McCabe acknowledged that the material at issue was “inadvertently and briefly uploaded” to the site, and she was careful to add that no ruling in the cases had been formally released.

NBC News noted that in the immediate aftermath of the error, it was not clear whether the document was a draft decision, the full and final decision, or something else altogether.

Accurate foreshadowing

The document that was posted on Wednesday appeared to show the majority's willingness to permit emergency room physicians to perform abortions under certain circumstances, contrary to a controversial Idaho law, allowing a lower court ruling favoring the Biden administration to take effect.

As Fox News reported, the actual opinion in the consolidated cases was released on Thursday morning, confirming the substance of what was posted to the Supreme Court site the previous day.

The high court determined that Idaho doctors would -- for now -- be permitted to carry out emergency abortion procedures so as to comply with federal law mandating the provision of “stabilizing treatments” to anyone in critical condition.

According to the opinion, the grants of certiorari in the two aforementioned cases were “improvidently granted," and the controversy will now continue its progress in the lower courts on the merits of the parties' respective positions, though Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas believed the high court should have gone ahead and addressed the substance of the issues presented in the underlying cases.

Noting what he believed to be readiness of the cases for full review by the panel on the merits, Alito wrote, “Everything there is to say about the statutory interpretation question has probably been said many times over. That question is as ripe for decision as it will ever be. Apparently, the Court has lost the will to decide the easy but emotional and highly politicized question that the case presents. That is regrettable.”

Honest mistake, or something else?

The Wednesday leak was, to some, oddly reminiscent of what took place two years ago when a draft opinion in the landmark Dobbs decision overturning the abortion precedent of Roe v. Wade was intentionally leaked in advance.

After conducting an investigation into the matter, the Supreme Court issued a report many months later indicating that it was ultimately unable to pinpoint the source of the leak that prompted a rash of hostile, often threatening protests to spring up at the homes of several conservative justices.

At the time of the Dobbs leak, suspicions grew about the possible -- and arguably nefarious -- political motivations behind the shocking scenario, and Wednesday's premature posting of what turned out to be -- with just a few minor tweaks -- the same opinion officially issued on Thursday will undoubtedly fan the flames of concern that something untoward has been -- and continues to be -- afoot at the court.

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