Abortion battle moves to the homes of Supreme Court justices


Abortion rights activists have gathered in recent days outside the homes of three Conservative Supreme Court justices to protest the possible demise of Roe v. Wade, and have taken their defense in a very personal and politically divisive direction.

The targeting of housing — belonging to Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh and John Roberts — has forced the White House to navigate a thorny question about the proper boundaries of political rhetoric, one with deeply divided opinions on whether the tactic represented a worrying escalation or an emotional response befitting the potential loss of a constitutional right. He is approximately 50 years old.

The Biden administration tried that balance on Monday, with White House press secretary Jen Psaki denouncing the potential for threats or violence but stopping short of condemning protests outside judges’ homes.

“We are a country that promotes democracy, and we certainly allow peaceful protest in a range of places in the country,” Psaki said. “None of them should break the law.”

This response was considered tepid by some political analysts. Russell Wheeler, a visiting fellow in the Governance Studies Program at the Brookings Institution, said the Biden administration’s message could have been stronger.

“They’re trying to walk a straight line between a tough anti-violence stance toward judges while not alienating their pro-Roe base,” Wheeler said.

Recent demonstrations in the form of street protests in major US cities and a suspected arson incident Sunday on an anti-abortion group in Wisconsin have raised concerns about whether Roe’s potential demise could lead to a new wave of political violence in the United States.

Robert Blair, coordinator of the Democratic Erosion Consortium at Brown University, has argued that the risk of political violence in the United States is too high and anything that contributes to the problem should be avoided. He said leaders need to say these protests have gone too far in order to reduce violence.

“One of the main issues on January 6 is that people in leadership positions haven’t come out and say, ‘Hey, stop this.'” Most obvious: Donald Trump, Blair said. “To the extent that you have people like [President] Biden, or the people who are known as abortion rights advocates, who come out and denounce these kinds of tactics, this is important because it sends a really important signal that this is alienating people and I think that is valuable.”

Other experts expressed less concern. Rachel Kleinfeld, an expert on political violence, agreed that the homes of government officials should be banned, but said she was “not particularly concerned” about the potential for political violence to erupt in response to Roe’s heart.

“The vast majority of worldwide political and criminal violence is perpetrated by men. The people most angered by Roe’s decision are women,” said Kleinfeld, a distinguished fellow in democracy, conflict, and governance at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “While men may be on the streets, Their feelings are generally less intense.”

On the political left, she added, those who strongly support violence are the least close to the Democratic Party: “This makes their violence more spontaneous and less politically organized,” she said.

Discussing her opposition to protests outside people’s homes on both sides, Kleinfield said “there must be a separation between where people live and the jobs they do, to protect their children from trauma, as well as for democratic reasons.”

ShutDownDC, which is organizing the demonstration in the Alito neighborhood this week, defended its decision to protest outside individual homes because “the judges obviously don’t want to hear the public opinion.”

“If they don’t listen to us in a building that symbolizes the power they have over us, they are going to have to listen to us enough in a building that symbolizes how personal this is — their homes,” Hope Neyer, communications team member with ShutDownDC, said.

“For those who suggest that such protests go too far, or go too far, we say that this leaked decision, if officially announced, goes too far,” Nir added.

Republican leaders have strongly denounced the demonstrations outside judges’ homes as a tactic of intimidation.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) on Monday described the protests as an attempt “to intimidate federal judges into ruling them a certain way” and “far beyond the confines of First Amendment rhetoric or protest.”

Lawmakers are moving to try to pass legislation that would extend the security of Supreme Court justices to their family members. Senator Chris Coons (Democrat of Dale), a close Biden ally, was among the senators who introduced the legislation.

A draft Supreme Court opinion last week revealed that a majority of the court’s most conservative 5-4 justices are said to be on the verge of overturning the landmark decision in Rowe, which for nearly five decades has guaranteed a federal right to access to abortion.

Within hours of the leak published Monday night by Politico, large crowds gathered outside the Supreme Court. By Tuesday, law enforcement officials had erected a 7-foot black security fence around the building and subsequently closed off parts of the adjacent streets.

The fence is part of escalating precautionary crowd control measures in the wake of the riots at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, when a mob of Trump supporters broke into the building in an attempt to stop the ratification of the results of the 2020 election. A security fence was erected around the Capitol grounds for nearly five months after the rebellion.

The recent turmoil comes amid a sharp decline in the Supreme Court’s overall standing in recent years, which has fallen to a historic low, and as new polls suggest the 6-3 Conservative Court is moving one step further with Americans, the vast majority of whom want to see Roe’s endorsement.

Amid the fallout last week, critics accused the three Trump-appointed justices of lying to the American public during their passage hearings by suggesting they considered Roe a stable law, only to support the repeal of the landmark 1973 decision soon after they joined the bench. Many also pointed to the Republican Party’s refusal in the Senate in 2016 to allow then-President Obama to fill the vacancy left by the late Justice Antonin Scalia, a move that would have impeached Roe.

The fallout from the draft opinion created a problem sending messages to the Biden administration. Although the White House has clearly condemned the attack on the office of an anti-abortion group in Madison, Wisconsin, the most difficult response has been with the demonstrations in the metropolitan area.

Asked on Monday whether Biden plans to condemn protests in the homes of Supreme Court justices, Psaki noted there was no violence or vandalism against judges.

“As an independent body, how or whether they are affected is not up to me to decide, but we believe in peaceful protests,” she said.

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