Panelists speak at a power brunch hosted by the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site. Left to right: Moderator and Visit Indy Public Relations Director Morgan Snyder, former United Press International reporter Andrea Neal, Notre Dame Law School professor Nicole Stelle Garnett and Indiana Solicitor General Thomas M. Fisher. (Indiana Capital Chronicle/Leslie Bonilla Muñiz)
Hoosier law experts on Wednesday denounced the May leak of the draft United States Supreme Court decision that in June sent the question of abortion back to states, during an event focused on the nation’s highest court, hosted by the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site.
“It was such a shocking, shocking breach of trust,” said Notre Dame Law School professor Nicole Stelle Garnett, who clerked for Associate Justice Clarence Thomas in the late 90s.
Garnett worried the leaked document would “forever change the nature of the law clerks’ relationships with the justices for whom they work and with each other.” The justices, she said, circulate draft opinions to allow fellow justices to sign on, suggest changes and otherwise deliberate decisions.
Solicitor General Thomas M. Fisher, who manages the State’s SCOTUS docket and leads Indiana’s high-profile litigation, called the leak “an attack on the integrity of the process of the court.”
“In society today, we see too many efforts to try to tear down our esteemed institutions,” Fisher added. He also advises Republican Attorney General Todd Rokita.
Garnett, a longtime friend of conservative Catholic Justice Amy Coney Barrett, noted that protesters still gather outside the justice’s home regularly. The two women clerked together — Coney Barrett for the originalist, textualist Justice Antonin Scalia — and were colleagues for nearly two decades at Notre Dame Law School.
“It’s a really difficult job. As someone obviously cares about these people as people, well, that’s hard,” Garnett said. “But … if they’re doing their job well, they’re doing it [while] trying to ignore the political consequences of their judgement — knowing full well that there will be [consequences].”
The three-person panel, which also included former SCOTUS journalist Andrea Neal, also shared lighthearted experiences working for, reporting on and arguing before the court. Behind the scenes, the panelists said, the court was less bitterly divided.
Clerks were friends with each other, Garnett said, as were the justices. In a tradition making a post-pandemic resurgence, chambers took turns hosting weekly happy hours. But the nomination process, she observed, has become stunningly partisan.
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