For those who are currently playing the game of who-is-the-Supreme-Court-leaker, here’s an intriguing clue. A few blogs have picked up the following tweet from Bart Gellman of Time Magazine on June 2:
Ponnuru: inside sources at Supreme Court (really?) tell me the initial vote was 5-4 against Obamacare, but Roberts since turned wobbly.
— Barton Gellman (@bartongellman) June 2, 2012
I poked around and found the audio of Ponnuru’s comment. Here’s the context. On the morning of June 2, 2012, a panel presentation was held at Princeton University’s Reunions on the topic of Presidential politics. During the panel, the moderator asked the panelists how they thought the Supreme Court would rule in the Health Care cases. Here was the answer of National Review Senior Editor Ramesh Ponnuru ’95:
My own sort of educated guess, based on people I talk to at the Supreme Court, is that — Well, as I’m sure people know, there’s an initial vote the same week, on the Friday of the oral arguments. And my understanding is that there was a 5-4 vote to strike down the mandate and maybe some related provisions but not the entire act. Since then, interestingly, there seem to have been some second thoughts. Not on the part of Justice Kennedy, but on the part of Chief Justice Roberts, who seems to be going a little bit wobbly. So right now, I would say, [the outcome of the case] is a little bit up in the air….
You can hear the audio from the panel here; Ramesh’s comment starts at the 38:45 point.
We don’t know if the person who leaked to Ramesh Ponnuru also leaked to Jan Crawford. But either way, the crowd that might leak to Ramesh Ponnuru for a small audience during the course of deliberations is likely to be a considerably smaller group than the crowd that might leak to Jan Cranford for a big CBS News story after the case was handed down.
UPDATE: To clarify what I’m thinking above, I think Ponnuru’s comments tend to point in the direction of conservative clerks. To be clear, this is all just speculation: I don’t have any inside story and I’m just reading what I find on the web. But as surprising as it was for Ramesh to say that he had “people he talks to at the Supreme Court,” it seems pretty much inconceivable that a writer would so casually disclose a contact with a United States Supreme Court Justice. Plus, the circles of conservative law clerks and National Review writers have considerably more contacts and overlaps than Justices and National Review writers. Finally, I’ve been persuaded by speaking to a number of informed people that clerk leaks are more likely and have in the past led to less punishment than I would have thought. Anyway, sorry this is so vague and uncertain. But that’s my thinking.