US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas said the leak of a draft opinion in a case signalling the court’s conservative majority will overturn constitutional protections for abortion access was “tremendously bad” and an “infedility” that has undermined the institution and exposed its fragility.
Justice Thomas, speaking at a conference hosted by right-wing think tank American Enterprise Institute in Dallas on 13 May, said the leak of the opinion drafted by conservative Justice Samuel Alito in the Dobbs vs Jackson Women’s Health Organization is “beyond anyone’s understanding, or at least anyone’s imagination.”
“I wonder how long we’re going to have these institutions at the rate we’re undermining them,” he said. “And then I wonder when they’re gone or destabilized, what we’re going to have as a country.”
The remarks from Justice Thomas – the court’s longest-serving sitting justice and a staunch conservative – echo his statements on the leak when he spoke to a conference in Atlanta earlier this month, when he said that government institutions should not be “bullied” into their decision making.
“And look where we are, where now that trust or that belief is gone forever,” Justice Thomas said on Friday. “And when you lose that trust, especially in the institution that I’m in, it changes the institution fundamentally. You begin to look over your shoulder. It’s … kind of an infidelity, that you can explain it, but you can’t undo it.”
A final opinion in the case – which could undo decades of abortion rights protections in the US by overturning the landmark 1973 ruling in Roe v Wade and its affirming decision in 1992’s Planned Parenthood v Casey – is expected in the coming weeks.
The end of Roe protections could “trigger” state-level laws outlawing the procedure entirely in at least 13 states. More than half the US is expected to quickly or immediately implement restrictions or outright bans on abortion without overarching federal protections.
Berkeley Law School’s John Yoo – a former Justice Department attorney who argued for the use of torture after 9/11 – was interviewing Justice Thomas at the American Enterprise Institute event; Mr Yoo did not ask him about the controversy surrounding Supreme Court decisions related to the 2020 presidential election, or his wife Virginia Thomas’ text messages to Donald Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows urging him to reject election results.
Justice Thomas was also the sole dissenting vote in the high court’s January decision to reject Mr Trump’s effort to withhold documents from a congressional inquiry into the attack on the US Capitol on 6 January.
The opinion from Justice Alito in the Dobbs case is joined by Justice Thomas and three other Republican-appointed conservatives on the court, according to Politico, which first reported the draft.