WASHINGTON — Justice Samuel Alito has said the premature leak of his opinion overturning Roe v. Wade made he and his fellow conservative justices “targets for assassination.”
“The leak also made those of us who were thought to be in the majority and supportive 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,” Alito said during a Heritage Foundation event Tuesday night.
The leaked draft opinion was published by Politico May 2 – almost eight full weeks before the final decision came down – prompting protests by abortion-rights activists around the country. Some came to Washington, marching to the Supreme Court and, more controversially, outside the homes of conservative justices.
Alito cited the case of 26-year-old Nicholas John Roske, who was arrested in June outside Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s Maryland home and charged with attempted murder. Roske is accused of carrying a pistol to the conservative justice’s home intending to kill him.
“We know that a man has been charged with attempting to kill Justice Kavanaugh,” he said. “It’s a pending case so I won’t say anything more.”
Alito went on to call the leak a “grave betrayal of trust by somebody.” The tipster’s identity remains unknown, but is believed to have come from inside the Court.
“It was a shock because nothing like that had happened in the past,” he said. “So it certainly changed the atmosphere at the Court for the remainder of last term.”
If found, the leaker could face criminal charges, legal experts have said.
Alito’s comments echo fellow Justice Clarence Thomas’ remarks following the early release of the opinion. The conservative justice, who has served since 1991, said the leak “change[d] the institution fundamentally.”
“When you lose that trust, especially in the institution that I’m in … you begin to look over your shoulder,” Thomas said May 14 at a conference in Dallas. “It’s like kind of an infidelity in that you can explain it, but you can’t undo it.”
Alito said the justices and Supreme Court staff are now hoping to rebuild trust that was broken by the leak.
“All of us, the justices and the people who work in the building – we have a wonderful staff – want things to get back to normal, the way they were before all this … to the greatest degree possible,” he said,
Alito added that all the justices – conservative and liberal – still work well together, despite public speculation to the contrary.
“During my 16 years on the court, the justices have always gotten along very well on a personal level. I think the public, when they read our opinions probably misses that,” he said. “But none of that is personal and that is something that I wish the public understood.”