After abortion leak, Justice Thomas warns Supreme Court can't be 'bullied'

The court is due to issue its ruling in the case by the end of June.

 A general view of the Supreme Court building at the start of the court's new term in Washington (photo credit: REUTERS / JONATHAN ERNST)
A general view of the Supreme Court building at the start of the court's new term in Washington
(photo credit: REUTERS / JONATHAN ERNST)

Following protests sparked by the leak of a draft US Supreme Court decision indicating the justices are poised to overturn the constitutional right to abortion, Justice Clarence Thomas said on Friday that the court cannot be "bullied."

The leak set off a political firestorm, with abortion-rights supporters staging rallies outside the courthouse and at locations around the United States, as well as an internal crisis at the nation's top judicial body where an investigation into the source of the unprecedented disclosure is underway.

Thomas, one of the most conservative justices on the nine-member court, made only a few passing references to the protests over the leaked draft opinion as he spoke at a judicial conference in Atlanta.

As a society, "we are becoming addicted to wanting particular outcomes, not living with the outcomes we don't like," Thomas said.

"We can't be an institution that can be bullied into giving you just the outcomes you want. The events from earlier this week are a symptom of that."

 A demonstrator holds a sign during a protest outside the US Supreme Court, after the leak of a draft majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito preparing for a majority of the court to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion rights decision later this year, in Washington, US, May 3, 20 (credit: REUTERS/EVELYN HOCKSTEIN) A demonstrator holds a sign during a protest outside the US Supreme Court, after the leak of a draft majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito preparing for a majority of the court to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion rights decision later this year, in Washington, US, May 3, 20 (credit: REUTERS/EVELYN HOCKSTEIN)

Police have surrounded the court with tall black fencing following the protests, which have been peaceful.

The draft opinion, authored by conservative Justice Samuel Alito and published on Monday by the Politico news outlet, would uphold a Mississippi law banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy and overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

The court confirmed the authenticity of the document but called it preliminary. The court is due to issue its ruling in the case by the end of June.

Alito on Friday canceled his appearance at another court conference, instead sending a video message in which he told attendees it would have been "impractical" to attend, according to people who attended the conference.

Thomas, a native of Georgia, spoke at the 11th Circuit Judicial Conference, a gathering of lawyers and judges from the Atlanta-based federal appeals court and the federal district courts of Georgia, Florida and Alabama.

On Thursday, Roberts told conference attendees that the leak was "absolutely appalling" but vowed that it would not affect the court's work.