‘Roe v. Wade’ Court Leak ‘Deplorable,’ Could Backfire, Says Former Wyo Justice

The leak of a U.S. Supreme Court draft decision on abortion will probably have little benefit and may even backfire on those responsible, according to several Wyoming attorneys including former Supreme Court Justice Bill Hill.

Leo Wolfson

May 10, 20224 min read

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(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

The leak of a U.S. Supreme Court draft decision on abortion will probably have little benefit and may even backfire on those responsible, according to several Wyoming attorneys.

The draft decision leaked last week to Politico seemed to show that a majority of Supreme Court justices support the reversal of the landmark abortion ruling “Roe v. Wade,” which recognized abortion as a constitutionally guaranteed right.

Former Wyoming Supreme Court Justice Bill Hill, who spent 20 years on the court, said the early release of the draft opinion may have the opposite effect of what the person who released the ruling may have intended.

“I think it could very easily backfire on the on those who wanted it released, surreptitiously,” he told Cowboy State Daily.

Lander attorney Christine Lichtenfels said she does not believe the leak benefited pro-choice advocates because they had been expecting the court to eventually overturn the 1973 ruling.

“What’s really going to matter is in June when the decision comes out,” she said.

The leak of the draft ruling, believed to be the first in the U.S. Supreme Court’s history, was harshly criticized by Hill, who spent several years as the Wyoming high court’s chief justice.

“It’s despicable, deplorable and criminal,” he said.

Hill said he sees the leak as a criminal theft of confidential U.S. government property and said the party found responsible will be in “deep trouble.” 

He said during his time on the Wyoming Supreme Court, such drafts were frequently circulated among the justices and their clerks.

“It gives each justice a chance to comment on the final order,” he said. “You’re depending on the good faith of your colleagues and the employees of your colleagues on the court to look out for the court.”

Hill said he had no recollection of any court documents being released preemptively during his 20 years as a justice.

The leak spurred protests over the weekend by demonstrators on either side of the issue, some of whom gathered at the homes of U.S. Supreme Court justices and outside of churches.

The draft opinion, which is expected to become official later this year, showed the majority of justices favor overturning Roe v. Wade. If the ruling remains unchanged prior to its final release, it will return authority over abortions to the states.

U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who called the leak “appalling,” has demanded an investigation into the source of the leak.

U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis, an attorney who previously served in the state Legislature and as state Treasurer, also criticized the leak.

“Whoever leaked the draft opinion to the media has done the Supreme Court a great disservice,” she said. “They undermined decades of precedent and attempted to fundamentally alter the way our highest Court operates.”

Lichtenfels runs Chelsea’s Fund, an organization that provides money for women leaving the state to obtain abortions.

She said she was more concerned with the content of the draft and the tone and language used by Justice Samuel Alito on behalf of the conservative majority of the court than with its leak.

“He showed an unbelievable disdain he showed for previous Supreme Court decisions and justices,” she said.

A number of theories have been offered for the document’s leak involving both pro-choice and pro-life forces, but Hill said he has no guesses as to the leaker’s motivation.

The release of the draft hasn’t slowed the plans of Wellspring Health Access and its owner Julie Burkhart from planning to open a new abortion clinic in Casper, the state’s second, this summer.

Tim Lasseter, a member of Park County Right to Life, said his organization and Wyoming Right to Life plan to protest outside the facility on its opening day.

Wyoming is one of many states to have adopted a “trigger” law that would ban abortions within five days of an official reversal of Roe v. Wade.

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Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter