Chief Justice Roberts is very concerned with ‘betrayal’ and ‘breach of trust’

Chief Justice Roberts is very concerned with ‘betrayal’ and ‘breach of trust’

Chief Justice John Roberts is understandably upset about the leaking of his fellow conservative, Samuel Alito’s, wrathful, misogynistic diatribe representing the views of (apparently) the majority of the Supreme Court toward the subject of abortion. In an exceedingly rare statement following the publication of the leaked opinion, Roberts huffed about the impropriety of it all:

To the extent this betrayal of the confidences of the Court was intended to undermine the integrity of our operations, it will not succeed. The work of the Court will not be affected in any way.

We at the  Court are blessed to have a workforce—permanent employees and law clerks  alike—intensely loyal to the institution and dedicated to the rule of law. Court employees have an exemplary and important tradition of respecting the confidentiality of the judicial process and upholding the trust of the Court. This  was a singular and egregious breach of that trust that is an affront to the Court and the community of public servants who work here.

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Justice Roberts’ indignance at what will most certainly be the final nail in any perception that the operating majority of this court as currently constituted is anything but a cabal of extremist right-wing Federalist Society hacks—specifically bred and cultivated for one purpose—likely stems from his realization that, ultimately, his own incompetence will be blamed. And that’s a perfectly reasonable sentiment. This type of premature “leaking” of an opinion—let alone one carrying such magnitude—has never happened before in the history of the court, and the blame for it, whatever the facts may be, ultimately rests on his shoulders as chief justice. He senses this, or he should. And elected Republicans, adopting this same line, appear to be far more outraged at the bare fact of the “leak” rather than the actual content of what was “leaked.”

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The irony here is inescapable. Roberts bemoans the “betrayal of confidences” displayed by the public dissemination of a judicial opinion that represents just such a betrayal. Presumably, he is complaining about this rude infringement upon the court’s prerogative to deliberate and fashion its opinions privately, without exposing its inner workings to the public (a “right of privacy” so to speak, which is particularly rich given that the entire debate about abortion centers on privacy, and the entire premise of Alito’s opinion seeks to eviscerate that right). 

But “betrayal of confidence” also means a breach of trust, and the draft majority opinion is exactly that: a betrayal of confidence in all American women and those who may become pregnant. It is a betrayal of their expectations, their convictions, and most importantly, their personal autonomy to make one of the most intimate, personal decisions imaginable. In fact, it is worse than a betrayal; it is a statement of wholehearted disrespect and disdain. That is the real essence of Alito’s hate-filled rant.

Perhaps even worse than that, it is a staggering betrayal of the very “rule of law” that Roberts leaps here to defend. It is a betrayal and disregard of the duty of adherence to prior precedent which is, in fact, the only glue that bestows any legitimacy on a judicial body. And now that this court has seen fit to abandon that duty based on political considerations and ideology, the world sees just how hollow this supposedly hallowed institution has become.

He calls it a “singular and egregious breach of that trust,” but he spares no consideration for the millions of those Americans who placed their trust in his court, their trust that the state would never become weaponized against them, now seeing their rights suddenly ripped away. And not just “any” rights: rather, the basic, visceral, biological, and personal right to make one’s own reproductive decisions, a right that had existed under the Constitution and was explicitly validated by his own forbears for half a century. He complains of an “affront” to the court’s decorum, ignoring the colossal affront his own colleagues have just perpetrated.

This is your court, Mr. Roberts. They just showed all Americans exactly what they are. So please, just spare us your paeans to propriety and “decorum.”

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