The United States Supreme Court typically keeps all deliberations and draft opinions private while a case is pending. At the start of the publication process, the court releases a single slip opinion for the case. However, some instances of news leaks of private deliberations or draft opinions have occurred.
In February 1857, Associate Justice John Catron informed President-elect James Buchanan that the Supreme Court would write in Dred Scott v. Sanford that Congress had no power to regulate slavery in federal territories. Catron wanted Justice Robert Cooper Grier, a Pennsylvanian, to join the majority in Dred Scott so there would be at least one Northerner, who would be in favor of the majority's decision. Buchanan wrote to Grier asking him to join the Court's majority, which Grier did. At his inauguration, Buchanan referred to the Dred Scott decision and said the issue of slavery would soon be "speedily and finally" settled by the Supreme Court. The Tribune also published a running account of deliberations in the case, with Justice John McLean suspected of being the leaker.
The Department of Justice indicted Ashton Embry, a former clerk of Justice Joseph McKenna, in 1919 for leaking pending decisions to Wall Street traders, including a railroad patent case. Embry had resigned a few months earlier to become a baker. No insider trading laws existed then, so Embry was charged with depriving "the United States of its lawful right and duty of promulgating information in the way and at the time required by law and at departmental regulation." The case never went to trial after the government's chief witness was "accused of conspiring with the Germans during World War I."Ninth Circuit Judge John B. Owens told Politico in 2022 that Embry is the only known case where "someone financially benefitted from disclosing inside information at the Supreme Court".
Two years later, Warren Burger reassigned a member of the Court's print staff after determining they leaked the results of multiple cases to Tim O’Brien, an ABC News correspondent. In 1986, O'Brien correctly reported the 7-2 vote in Bowsher v. Synar, but got the specific day the Court was expected to announce its ruling wrong, as Burger delayed the announcement, likely because of the leak.
Once a decision was finalized, Larry Hammond, a clerk for Justice Lewis Powell, leaked it to Time, on the condition it would not be published until the ruling was public. The announcement was delayed, but Time was already scheduled to publish and hit newsstands anyways. Chief Justice Warren E. Burger was "livid", and asked the other justices to identify the leaker so they could be punished. Hammond confessed to Powell, offering to resign, but Powell rejected that offer, telling Burger that Hammond was double-crossed. Burger met with Hammond and forgave him, and would also meet with ors from Time.
The reporter who broke the story, David C. Beckwith, said in 2022 that he spoke with about 15 people for the story, including Hammond.