Months after the unprecedented leak of the U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion that overturned Roe v. Wade, lawmakers in North Dakota considered — and struck down — a bill to criminalize court leaks on Tuesday.
Introduced by the North Dakota Supreme Court, the bill would have let prosecutors charge people with misdemeanors for leaking information on pending court decisions in the state. Republican Rep. Landon Bahl, of Grand Forks, said the bill was a direct response to the leak of the Dobbs decision.
But he also said during the debate that lawmakers weren’t aware of any court leaks in North Dakota.
“Our state does not face these issues,” Bahl said. “If these issues arise in the future, they can be dealt with internally, as most professionals sign confidentiality agreements” or are governed by ethics boards.
The bill failed on a 43-49 vote in the House.
Majority Republicans were divided on the issue.
“We don’t have to wait around for the issue to happen. We have to send the message now that this is unacceptable,” Rep. Austen Schauer, of West Fargo, said before voting in favor of the bill.
Rep. Bernie Satrom, of Jamestown, also voted in favor. “All of our judges should have the freedom to deliberate and make lawful decisions without concern for being threatened, harassed or intimidated,” he said.
But Rep. Lawrence Klemin, of Bismarck, voted against the bill. He told lawmakers a media representative had testified earlier that the bill would put “undue pressure” on journalists to disclose the identities of leakers.
The bill is expected to die unless a majority of House members agree to bring it back for reconsideration Wednesday, Klemin said in an email to The Associated Press.
After the leak of the U.S. Supreme Court’s draft decision that ultimately stripped away constitutional protections for abortion rights, Chief Justice John Roberts and other conservative justices were the subject of protests and threats.
The security concerns reached alarming levels in early June, when police arrested an armed man near Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s house after he called 911 and said he was going to kill Kavanaugh.
The nation’s highest court has said little since then about its investigation and whether anyone has been identified for leaking the draft last May.
Trisha Ahmed is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow her on Twitter: @TrishaAhmed15