By Rich McKay
ATLANTA (Reuters) – U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts on Thursday decried as “absolutely appalling” the leak of a draft decision indicating the Supreme Court is poised to overturn the constitutional right to abortion in his first public appearance since its disclosure on Monday.
The leak prompted an internal crisis at the nation’s top judicial body and ignited a political firestorm, with abortion rights supporters staging rallies outside the courthouse and at various locations around the United States.
“A leak of this stature is absolutely appalling,” Roberts told a judicial conference in Atlanta.
“If the person behind it thinks that it will affect our work, that’s just foolish,” Roberts added.
The chief justice the day after the draft was published announced an investigation into the source of the unprecedented leak that he called a betrayal of the confidentiality of the judicial process.
Roberts addressed the matter briefly on Thursday at the conference after another participant, Judge Ed Carnes of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, asked him about the “elephant in the room.” Roberts praised the Supreme Court’s workforce, from the clerks serving the nine justices all the way to the employees who empty waste baskets at night.
“I’d hate for one bad apple change the perception of that,” Roberts said.
The draft opinion, authored by conservative Justice Samuel Alito and published by the Politico news outlet, would uphold a Mississippi law banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy and overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide.
The court confirmed the authenticity of the document but called it preliminary. The court is due to issue its ruling in the case by the end of June.
Roberts spoke at the 11th Circuit Judicial Conference, a gathering of lawyers and judges from the Atlanta-based federal appeals court and the federal district courts of Georgia, Florida and Alabama. Conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, a native of Georgia, was scheduled to appear at the conference on Friday.
(Reporting by Rick McKay in Atlanta; Writing by Andrew Chung in New York; Editing by Will Dunham)