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Alito says leaked abortion opinion made conservative justices 'targets for assassination'

Justice Samuel Alito said in remarks at the Heritage Foundation that he and his colleagues "want things to get back to normal" in the Supreme Court term that started this month.
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Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito said Tuesday night that the leak of the draft opinion to overturn Roe v. Wade this year endangered the lives of justices by putting a target on their backs.

“It was a great betrayal of trust by somebody, and it was a shock, because nothing like that had happened in the past, so it certainly changed the atmosphere at the court for the remainder of last term,” Alito said at an event at the Washington-based Heritage Foundation in response to a question about how the leak has affected the court.

Associate Justice Samuel Alito sits during a group photo of the Justices at the Supreme Court in Washington, DC, on April 23, 2021.
Associate Justice Samuel Alito during a group photo of the Justices at the Supreme Court in Washington, DC, on April 23, 2021.Erin Schaff / Pool/AFP via Getty Images file

“The leak also made those of us who were thought to be in the majority in support of overruling Roe and Casey targets for assassination, because it gave people a rational reason to think they could prevent that from happening by killing one of us,” he added. The court also overturned its related 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey in the ruling in June.

Alito, who was nominated by former President George W. Bush and is part of the court’s 6-3 conservative majority, authored the draft and the final opinion that removed constitutional protections for abortion.

In his remarks Tuesday, Alito referred to the charges against Nicholas John Roske, of Simi Valley, California, who was armed with a handgun, a knife, pepper spray and burglary tools when he was arrested in June near Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s home, between the release of the leaked draft and the court's eventual ruling. Roske has pleaded not guilty to trying to kill Kavanaugh.

"But that was last term. Now we're in a new term," Alito said Tuesday, adding that the justices and staff members "want things to get back to normal, the way they were before all of this last term, before Covid."

Alito's comments echoed, in part, Chief Justice John Roberts' statement shortly after the leak in May confirming the authenticity of the draft while condemning what he called a “betrayal of the confidences of the court.”

Roberts said at the time that he ordered the marshal of the court to launch an investigation to identify the leaker. No findings from the probe have been made public.

Additional security measures were put in place in the aftermath of the leak and in response to demonstrations outside several justices’ homes. Last week, a Georgia man was arrested on weapons charges after police said they found two handguns and a shotgun in a van he was driving in Washington with plans to “deliver documents” to the Supreme Court.