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Fair Courts Update: SCOTUS Requests Clerk Cell Phone Records for Dobbs Leak Investigation

This Fair Courts Update covers a historic case backlog in the Supreme Court and the launch of a new law clerk advocacy organization.

Last Updated: June 10, 2022
Published: July 7, 2022

Supreme Court Investigates Leak, Asks Law Clerks to Hand Over Cell Phone Records

One day after a draft majority opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that would overturn Roe v. Wade was published by Politico, Chief Justice John Roberts called for an internal investigation of the leak, saying the release of the draft opinion was intended to “undermine the integrity of our operations.”

On June 1, CNN reported that Supreme Court officials are requiring law clerks to turn over their private cell phone records and sign affidavits, developments that led some clerks to consider hiring outside counsel. Although much of the speculation around the source of the leak has been focused on the justices’ law clerks, former clerks told CNN that if usual procedures were followed, the draft opinion would have been distributed to up to 75 people before it was leaked.

The leaked opinion has also prompted calls for legislation and law enforcement action from Congressional Republicans. Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA), along with 11 House Republicans, introduced a bill that would make it a federal crime to share “confidential” information from the Supreme Court, including draft opinions. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) also called on the Department of Justice to “pursue criminal charges [against the source of the leak] if applicable.”

As Supreme Court Term Approaches End, Justices Issue Decisions at Unusually Slow Pace

The U.S. Supreme Court’s current term is expected to end within a month, yet the Court has not yet issued opinions in 29 cases that were argued this term. This is the biggest backlog of unannounced merits opinions in percentage terms since 1950, according to Adam Feldman of

Many of the argued cases still awaiting decisions involve high-profile issues, such as abortion, guns, immigration, climate change regulation, and religion in public schools, and some court watchers, including University of Michigan law professor Leah Litman, have posited that the delay is a result of internal strife within the Court.

Steve Vladeck, a law professor at University of Texas School of Law, wrote in MSNBC that the delay could also be due in part to the Court’s increasing use of the shadow docket. Vladeck also noted that, in the past three years, the Court has issued fewer than 60 signed decisions, and the last time it had issued so few decisions was in 1864, during the Civil War.

Launch of Legal Accountability Project, Clerk Advocacy Organization

On May 31, Aliza Shatzman and Matthew Goodman launched the Legal Accountability Project, a nonprofit with a goal “to ensure that as many law clerks as possible have positive clerkship experiences, while extending support and resources to those who do not.”

According to its website, the new organization will create a national, centralized database for former law clerks to report their experiences, whether positive or negative. It will also conduct a workplace culture assessment survey of law clerks and partner with law schools to conduct “programming related to harassment in the judiciary.” Ultimately, the organization plans to share its findings with the public, the American Bar Association, and with lawmakers.

The organization’s founding follows several reports of harassment and hostile work environments from former law clerks, including co-founder Shatzman, who submitted written testimony about her experience to the House Judiciary Committee as part of a March 2022 hearing.