Protests at justices’ homes: Fair game or too far?

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·Senior Editor
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“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories and debates.

What’s happening

In response to a leaked draft opinion indicating that the Supreme Court is primed to overturn Roe v. Wade, abortion rights activists have staged large protests across the country — including in the streets outside the homes of conservative justices.

On Monday night, a group of about 100 protesters gathered outside the northern Virginia home of Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote the opinion that would eliminate the constitutional right to abortion that was established by the court in 1973. Similar demonstrations were held outside the residences of Justice Brett Kavanaugh and Chief Justice John Roberts over the weekend.

Though each of the protests was peaceful, the demonstrations prompted safety concerns among Washington lawmakers. This week the Senate moved swiftly to pass a bill to expand security protection for the justices and their families. Under pressure from conservatives to condemn the protests, the White House issued a statement saying that President Biden “strongly believes in the Constitutional right to protest. But that should never include violence, threats, or vandalism.”

Protests are a regular feature of American politics, including at the homes of prominent lawmakers, but legal experts believe the demonstrations outside justices’ homes may be against the law. A federal law enacted in 1950 prohibits protests directed at judges or any other agent of the courts with the “intent of influencing” their decisions.

Why there’s debate

Republican lawmakers and conservative media figures have roundly condemned the protests, arguing that they’re intended to intimidate the justices into changing their votes. “It is an attempt to replace the rule of law with the rule of mobs,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said.

But criticism of the protests wasn’t entirely partisan. Some moderate Democrats and political commentators, many of whom strongly support the right to abortion, have argued that judges shouldn’t be subjected to the same kinds of public demonstrations that elected politicians are. They say attempts to publicly pressure the justices pose a threat to the independence of the judiciary, which was designed to be free from partisan politics. There are also those who argue that the protests are unlikely to have any real impact and could undermine the pro-choice cause by making the movement appear unreasonable or dangerous.

Supporters of the protests frequently argue that the notion of a politically independent Supreme Court is an illusion that’s been disproven over and over by what they view as blindly partisan rulings by the justices in recent years. Others see the likely repeal of Roe as such an egregious violation of Americans’ fundamental rights that it calls for unprecedented acts of dissent in response. They also point out that anti-abortion activists have been aggressively — sometimes violently — confronting doctors, staff and patients at women’s health clinics for decades.

What’s next

It’s unclear if more protests will be held at the justices’ houses in the near future or whether the Department of Justice intends to take action to break them up if they do occur. Abortion protections established by Roe v. Wade will remain in place until the court’s final ruling is released, which is expected to happen sometime in early summer.

Perspectives

Critics

Bringing protests to justices’ private homes is a dangerous and unnecessary escalation

“Efforts to intimidate people within the legal system are an offense against judicial independence, a key prerequisite to democracy. If protesters want to demonstrate outside the Supreme Court, that is fine. But going into a judge’s neighborhood and marching in front of his or her home is too far. It is a dangerous act of intimidation that should be roundly criticized.” — Editorial, Washington Examiner

Liberals are trying to impose their ideology on the court through intimidation

“The leak last week of a draft Supreme Court opinion … and the response to it by the left, represents another attempt to subvert the constitutional process to achieve the objective of moving the country more rapidly toward their favored ideological destination.” — Gerard Baker, Wall Street Journal

These protests are a direct threat to the sanctity of the judicial system

“This is not just noxious behavior; it is illegal. … The reason is simple: It is obstruction of justice. Just as it is against the law to tamper with witnesses or jurors by intimidating them or their family, it’s unlawful to tamper with a Supreme Court justice by coming to their home to threaten, harass or coerce them to influence their vote in a case before the court.” — Marc A. Thiessen, Washington Post

The court’s political independence must be protected

“The Constitution insulates the judiciary from politics, so it is obvious that the government has a high interest in protecting the integrity of the judicial process, on which the rule of law depends, by safeguarding judges, jurors, and litigation participants from intimidation and corrupt influence (e.g., pressure to decide a case based on fear rather than on faithful application of the law).” — Andrew C. McCarthy, National Review

The White House needs to be much more forceful in condemning the protests

“Team Biden should condemn this and urge protesters to make their voices heard at the Supreme Court. Instead, by not condemning it, they are tacitly approving the intimidation of justices at their homes.” — Joe Concha, The Hill

Supporters

Judges who take away Americans’ basic rights deserve to have their everyday lives disrupted

“I am all for civility, of course I am. Here’s the thing though: civil rights have never been won by groveling at the feet of people who hate you and saying, ‘Please sir, can I have a few more rights?’ You simply do not owe civility to people who don’t see you as a full citizen. It’s worrying how many people seem to think otherwise.” — Arwa Mahdawi, Guardian

Republicans are using the protests as a distraction from their unpopular position on abortion

“Conservative hosts and politicians have responded to the actually peaceful protests following the leak of the Supreme Court’s drafted plan to overturn Roe v. Wade with outrage and disgust, part of an effort to convince Americans that they — not the nation’s women — are the real victims of the push to do away with reproductive rights.” — William Vaillancourt, Rolling Stone

The concept of the Supreme Court as a politically independent judiciary is a fantasy

“The notion that the Supreme Court is involved in a process that is in some sense objective and purely evidence-based is nonsense. If that were true, then Roe v. Wade, a ruling made by the Supreme Court nearly a half-century ago, wouldn’t be on its deathbed; if the court had already divined how we should understand abortion rights, what is there to contest?” — Zeeshan Aleem, MSNBC

Citizens have a right to peacefully express their anger as they see fit

“Everyday people are mad, and now that the Supreme Court seems on the brink of shattering the illusion that the moral arc of civil rights in America bends toward justice, they are even angrier. Outrage, like water, seeks an outlet — so it’s hardly surprising that some protesters found one on the public thoroughfares outside the leafy homes of some of the justices.” — Will Bunch, Philadelphia Inquirer

It’s good for the justices to face the public that will be affected by their decisions

“The Supreme Court is on the precipice of making a decision that will directly and immediately impact the lives of millions. These are extraordinary circumstances. As long as protests outside of the homes of the people directly responsible for these circumstances are not unlawful or dangerous, they are appropriate. The powerful are always the most removed from the consequences of their actions. This shouldn’t be the case.” — Erin Gloria Ryan, Daily Beast

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Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

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