Barack Obama faces one of the deciding moments of his presidency this week as the Supreme Court is set to announce whether or not his flagship healthcare overhaul is constitutional.
And while the White House seems to be leaking information left, right and centre, the court has managed to keep its ruling a secret for months.
America’s nine Supreme Court justices officially voted on the plan more than two months ago – in the same week they heard the arguments – but they are only expected to make their decision public within the next fortnight.
The ruling could move markets, turn economies and greatly affect the Presidential contest between Mr Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
But despite the time delay, and the fact each justice has four clerks who not only know how their boss voted but where the other justices stand, all involved have kept schtum.
Unlike the Congress and the executive branch, which seem to leak information willy-nilly, the Supreme Court, from the chief justice down to the lowliest clerk, appears to truly value silence when it comes to upcoming court opinions.
No one talks, and that’s the way they like it.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said at a lawyers’ convention on June 15 that there had been a steady stream of ‘rumors and fifth-hand accounts’ in the media about what the high court was likely to do.
‘My favorite among the press pieces wisely observed: “At the Supreme Court … those who know don’t talk, and those who talk don’t know,”‘ she said.
The 36 Supreme Court clerks are in the loop because their job is to help research and craft the majority opinions and dissents that are circulated for justices to sign if they agree.
In addition to these 45 people, Supreme Court secretaries, aides, security guards, janitors, support staff and family members who are privy to the inner workings of the Court’s upper floors where the justices keep their chambers.
Printers who prepare the paper opinions to be handed out will also know, albeit at the last moment.
The Supreme Court’s silence contrasts with the rest of government, which has recently let slip secrets including the President’s direct role in supervising an unprecedented U.S. cyberattack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, for example.
Attorney General Eric Holder has appointed two U.S. attorneys to investigate national security leaks after Republicans accused the Obama administration of releasing the information to boost his popularity.
But there is no need for justices to leak information to boost their stature as, unlike the politicians, they are appointed for life thus don’t need to garner votes.
Justices also generally avoid the limelight, rarely appearing on television and don’t even allow cameras inside the Supreme Court.
But that silence trickles down even beyond the justices, as even the clerks, who have grown up with blogs, social media, camera-phones and free-flowing information, know to keep their lips sealed on the court’s deliberations.
Clerks are warned from day one not to reveal anything about their work, said lawyer Stephen Miller, who clerked for Justice Antonin Scalia.
He said, in addition to losing their extremely sought-after job, any clerk caught revealing information would immediately be ostracized in the legal profession.
No law firm would be willing to take a chance on a lawyer who talks or leaks information to outsiders without permission.
‘So what’s in it for a clerk to leak?’ Mr Miller said.
He said the last time information was leaked from the Supreme Court was more than 30 years ago.
‘They like information to move slowly and deliberately,’ he said.
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