How a Supreme Court case is decided

The process of getting to at least five votes for a majority often takes months — and the justices’ initial votes are subject to change

The Supreme Court building in Washington. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)
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In announcing plans to investigate who leaked the Supreme Court opinion to overturn Roe v. Wade, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. emphasized that the document obtained and published by Politico is only a draft and “does not represent a decision by the Court or the final position of any member on the issues in the case.”

The 98-page decision written by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. is labeled “1st Draft” and indicates it was circulated to all eight of his colleagues Feb. 10 — two months after the court in December heard oral arguments in the consequential case to potentially undo the constitutional right to abortion established 50 years ago.

The justices are reviewing a contested Mississippi law prohibiting most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy in the case known as Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Reaching a final decision before the end of the current term, probably late June or early July, and securing the minimum five out of nine votes for a majority is part of a multistep, closed-door process that plays out over many months at the Supreme Court.

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