WASHINGTON – It’s the biggest secret in a city known for not keeping them.
The nine Supreme Court justices and more than three dozen other people have kept quiet for more than two months about how the high court is going to rule on the constitutionality of President Barack Obama’s health-care overhaul.
This is information that could move markets, turn economies and greatly affect this fall’s national elections, including the presidential contest between Obama and presumed Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
But 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, big and small.
No one talks, and that’s the way they like it.
Contrast this with the rest of the government, which couldn’t keep secret Obama’s direct role in supervising an unprecedented U.S. cyberattack on Iran’s nuclear facilities or the existence of a double agent inside al-Qaida’s Yemen branch who tipped the U.S. to a new design for a bomb to put on a jetliner.
As Republicans air their suspicion that the leaks might be deliberate to enhance the Obama administration’s stature, Attorney General Eric Holder has appointed two U.S. attorneys to investigate those two disclosures and probably additional recent national security leaks.
Because far more people, of necessity, know about such secret national security operations, those investigators must examine hundreds, even thousands, of federal workers who might have known at least a chunk of the guarded information.
The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the law in the upcoming week or so. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, speaking to a lawyers’ convention June 15, noted 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 justices, of course, know, having officially voted on the results the same week they heard arguments.
But they are not the only ones in the loop: Each of the nine justices has four clerks who know not only how their justice voted but also how the other justices stand because these clerks 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 surely in the know, there are an assorted number of secretaries, aides, security guards, janitors, support staff members and family members keenly attuned to the inner workings of the Supreme Court’s upper floors where the justices keep their chambers. At the last moment possible, printers who prepare the paper opinions to be handed out will know.
If any of these people also know anything about how the case is going to come out, they’re not talking.