The release of a draft Supreme Court opinion that would overturn the historic ruling of Roe v. Wade in 1973 marked the first time such a memo was leaked to the press. But other leaks have changed the course of history, from the premature release of a war-ending treaty to the Roe decision itself.

Here are 10 monumental leaks spanning 200 years.

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo

The document that ended the Mexican-American War in 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, was leaked to the New York Herald's John Nugent and printed in its entirety before it was even signed. The article also included the terms that had not yet been agreed on, such as ceding half of Mexico's territory, which would eventually lead to the establishment of Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado, and parts of California, among others.

Although the identity of the person responsible for the leak was never revealed, despite heavy interrogation and house arrest, some historians believe that then-Secretary of State James Buchanan was behind the leak. Buchanan would eventually become the United States's 15th president and give Nugent a high-profile commission in his administration.


The Pentagon Papers

The leak of classified documents showed the true scale of U.S. involvement in Vietnam and revealed that multiple presidential administrations lied to the public and Congress between 1946 and 1967, according to the New Yorker. The Department of Defense's Pentagon Papers, officially titled the "Report of the Office of the Secretary of Defense Vietnam Task Force," revealed that the U.S. had quietly expanded its actions in Vietnam, which included raids on the coasts of North Vietnam.

The report, first published in the New York Times in 1971 by reporter Neil Sheehan, was leaked by former military analyst Daniel Ellsberg, who was charged with espionage, theft, and conspiracy, but the charges were eventually dismissed. The Nixon administration attempted to block the publishing of additional pages, but a Supreme Court ruling allowed their publication. The leak sowed distrust between the public and the government, setting the stage for the Watergate scandal that would ultimately end a presidency.


The following year, in 1972, information fed to Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein by the FBI special agent known as "Deep Throat" precipitated the end of the Nixon era.

The information from Deep Throat, later revealed to be Mark Felt, centered on the extent of then-President Richard Nixon's involvement in the break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate hotel in Washington despite Nixon's denials. Felt informed the reporters that “the Watergate bugging incident stemmed from a massive campaign of political spying and sabotage conducted on behalf of President Nixon’s re-election and directed by officials of the White House," according to the duo's first report in the Washington Post. Nixon was comfortably reelected in 1972, but he resigned in 1974 after he was ordered by the Supreme Court to present tapes that confirmed Felt's revelations.

Roe v. Wade ruling

The historic 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade was leaked to a Time reporter and was published in the magazine, which hit newsstands hours before it was announced by Justice Harry Blackmun. The ruling was leaked by Supreme Court clerk Larry Hammond, who worked for Justice Lewis Powell and was responsible for convincing Powell that the viability standard was the best line to draw when determining that states could no longer ban abortion, according to the Washington Post.

A de facto referendum on the landmark ruling is again on the docket with the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, which will challenge the standard by which states set abortion restrictions. Though the court's findings were set to be released at the end of the term this summer, a draft memo of the majority opinion leaked by Politico on Monday showed the majority overturning Roe and the subsequent Planned Parenthood v. Casey ruling in 1992, which upheld the Roe precedent.

Although the decision was leaked in 1973, Monday's leak was the first time a draft of an opinion was released. The Supreme Court has confirmed the draft's authenticity.

Iran-Contra affair

The Iran-Contra scandal, which occurred under President Ronald Reagan from 1981 to 1986, concerned the illegal sale of arms to the Khomeini government in Iran despite the country being under an arms embargo. The money from the sale was used to fund secretly the Contras, a Nicaraguan rebel group, which was prohibited by Congress. The rebel group was opposing the country's left-leaning government. The arrangement was first brought to light following a leak by an Iranian, Mehdi Hashemi, to a Lebanese magazine in November 1986.

Reagan accepted responsibility for the violations in 1987, claiming the sale began as a strategic opening to Iran that deteriorated into trading arms for hostages.

The scandal resulted in investigations by Congress and a three-person team appointed by Reagan. Both investigations found that Reagan did not personally know the extent of the arrangement.

Abu Ghraib torture

The extent of the torture of Iraqi prisoners in 2003 at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq by U.S. forces was revealed by CBS's 60 Minutes in April 2004, which broadcast photos of torture that gripped the nation. The atrocities, which occurred in President George W. Bush's first term, included mental and physical humiliation and torture, according to the report. Other examples of the torture included guards threatening prisoners with dogs and forcing naked men to perform sex acts.

The scandal sparked outrage in the U.S., and the tide of public opinion shifted against the Iraq War later in 2004.


Another scandal during the Iraq War was the anonymous release of 400,000 documents about the U.S. military on Julian Assange's website, WikiLeaks, in 2010. It included information about Iraqi civilian deaths, the abuse of war prisoners, and the involvement of Iran in the war and was the largest military leak at the time, according to Stacker. The outrage after the release of the documents stemmed partly from U.S. journalists, who accused Assange of being irresponsible for not properly vetting the flood of information.

Edward Snowden and the National Security Agency

Edward Snowden, a former CIA contractor, leaked thousands of classified government documents to the British publication the Guardian in 2013, apparently proving that the National Security Agency spied on U.S. citizens and noncitizens by gathering personal information, including phone records, emails, and social media data, belonging to citizens. The documents, which were later shared with other publications, showed an emboldened post-9/11 intelligence community amid shored-up legal protections via legislation such as the Patriot Act.

U.S. courts condemned the intelligence agencies in 2020, calling the tactics unconstitutional and illegal. The stolen property prompted Snowden to flee the country, eventually hiding out in Hong Kong before settling in Russia.

The Panama Papers

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, along with the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, received over 11 million documents detailing the use of offshore tax havens by the world's elite, which were published in 2016 and dubbed the Panama Papers. The German paper had received the documents anonymously from Panama, but it needed help deciphering the documents, and it took a year to work through due to the size.

Most of the findings were not illegal and resulted in only two arrests for wire and tax fraud, tax evasion, and forming a criminal organization. However, Iceland's prime minister resigned over his connection to the scandal.

No source for the leak has ever been revealed.

The Pandora Papers

In October 2021, the ICIJ released the first wave of leaks, this time labeled the "Pandora Papers," from another 12 million documents. The release of the papers is "the most expansive leak of tax haven files in history," according to the publication.

The new report, a collaborative effort from 600 journalists in 117 countries, concerns corruption within governments, businesses, and real estate. It changed the course of an election in the Czech Republic and sparked calls for a higher priority on money laundering and tax-evasion cases.


Often, significant leaks are met with public outcry, and Monday night's leak was no exception. Reports that the Supreme Court is poised to overturn Roe led to hundreds of protesters congregating outside the high court in Washington.

The ruling is not expected to be revealed until late June or early July.