Recent reports that Supreme Court staffers flouted ethics and security protocols with their reckless handling of sensitive information won’t help the nation’s highest court in its mission to restore the American public’s faith in the centuries-old institution.
Multiple sources familiar with the court’s inner workings told tales of a systematic disregard for procedures aimed at securing documents without sufficient oversight.
“Burn bags meant to ensure the safe destruction of materials were left open and unattended in hallways,” CNN reported.
This is a definite security risk.
Placed in paper bags with an identifying red stripe, burn bags contain documents slated to be destroyed by fire or shredder.
According to a former employee, “This has been going on for years.”
Those speaking on the condition of anonymity told the mainstream media news outlet that some employees would leave opened bags on their desks – while others were left outside of the justice’s chambers.
Aside from using printers that didn’t log communications, Supreme Court justices were also reported to have used personal emails to conduct judicial business. Staffers with access to a VPN have the ability to print off documents from various computers – making them difficult to track.
It’s an issue that has even more context in the wake of the recent investigation into the leak of Justice Alito’s opinion preceding the Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade last summer.
Once held up as the judicial standard, the Trump-packed court has seen its prestige and standing depleted amid multiple scandals.
While the investigation into who leaked the draft opinion came up empty, former conservative anti-abortion operative Reverend Rob Schenk wrote a letter to Chief Justice Roberts detailing a previous leak – also tied to Justice Alito.
In 2014, the Court was deciding whether the arts and crafts giant, Hobby Lobby, could be forced to cover birth control for employees as part of the company’s health care plan.
It was a decision that eventually went in Hobby Lobby’s favor.
According to the conservative activist, a major donor shared information with him on the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby decision weeks before the Supreme Court’s decision.
“Throughout this ordeal, I’ve had to look deeply at what my cohorts and I did at the Supreme Court,” Rev. Rob Schenck testified during a House Judiciary Committee hearing. “I believe we pushed the boundaries of Christian ethics and compromised the high court’s promise to administer equal justice.”
Alito wrote the opinion in Burwell as well.
The investigation into the SCOTUS leak prompted calls for increased security procedures. Supreme Court Marshall Gail Curley, who led the probe, acknowledged the gaps.
“The court’s current method of destroying court sensitive documents has vulnerabilities that should be addressed,” the Marshall said in their report.
Some on the left have called on President Joe Biden to expand the court in the interest of democracy.
In April 2021, the President announced plans to form a commission to probe the high court’s structure after Democrats introduced a bill to increase the bench to 13 justices, from the current nine.
Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett have been denounced for allegedly lying during their confirmation hearings when asked if they intended to overturn a woman’s constitutionally-protected right to reproductive healthcare autonomy.
While Thomas has come under scrutiny for refusing to recuse himself from cases that could pose a conflict of interest for the man married to the woman who actively tried to overturn the 2020 Presidential election – it was recently revealed that the spouse of Chief Justice Roberts recruited attorneys who had cases pending before the court, further complicating accusations of corruption.
Knowing what we know now about the partisan and dark money affiliations of right-wing members of the Supreme Court, reports that staffers routinely disregarded national security in the handling of communications and sensitive documents only add to public suspicion.
Original reporting by Ariane de Vogue at CNN.
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