WASHINGTON — For the protesters who chanted loudly outside Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh’s home, rudeness was the point.
They said they wanted to invade his privacy with picket signs and chants of “We won’t be going back!” to condemn the apparent support of the Supreme Court justice for ending the constitutional right to privacy that has guaranteed access to abortion since Roe v. Wade was ruled nearly 50 years ago.
“We can be non-civilian,” insisted Lacie Wooten-Holway, a 39-year-old teaching assistant who has been protesting regularly outside the home of her neighbor, Judge Kavanaugh, since October. She called it “absolutely insane” that the court could dictate what women do “with the only literal home we will have for the rest of our lives, which is our bodies.”
But the protests outside the homes of several judges, which erupted after the leak of a draft opinion showing the court’s conservative majority is ready to overthrow Roe, have sparked another heated debate over appropriate forms of protest at a time. of enormous upheaval in a deeply polarized country.
While largely peaceful, protests at the homes of Judge Kavanaugh and Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. received criticism from Republicans, who angrily accused Democrats of undue pressure on the court. Justice Clarence Thomas said the court’s conservatives were “bullied”. Arkansas Republican Senator Tom Cotton called for criminal charges against the protesters.
That criticism has sparked strong reprimands from abortion rights supporters, pointing to years of protests by abortion opponents in front of abortion clinics and doctors’ homes. And they accuse the Republicans who defended the January 6 attackers in the Capitol of hypocrisy because they were suddenly gripped by concern over passionate protesters.
Many of the protesters have expressed concern that the oversight of the protests has diverted attention from the real issue – limiting a woman’s right to abortion – that gave rise to the demonstrations. The board has expressed similar concerns.
But the debate highlights the divisions in a country that can’t agree on how or when to protest its differences. And it foreshadows a potentially more confrontational period this summer as the court issues a final verdict that overturns the right to abortion.
The White House has tried to balance both sides of the debate.
Asked about the protests outside judges’ homes last week, Ms Psaki said she had no “official position from the US government on where people protest,” adding that President Biden wanted “people’s privacy to be respected.”
Following a protest from critics of the protests at home, Ms. Psaki said on Twitter that while the president believed in the right to protest, “that should never include violence, threats or vandalism.”
From Opinion: A challenge for Roe v. Wade
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“Judges perform an incredibly important role in our society and they should be able to do their jobs without having to worry about their personal safety,” she wrote.
On Wednesday, as tensions flared, the Justice Department ordered US marshals to help “ensure the safety of judges.”
Many Democrats have dismissed criticism that the protests are inappropriate, noting that protesters often demonstrate outside their homes. But Senator Richard J. Durbin, an Illinois Democrat who chairs the Judiciary Committee, called protests outside the homes “reprehensible.” And the Senate this week passed a bill to provide security to the immediate family members of the nine judges if the Supreme Court Marshal sees fit.
Ms Wooten-Holway said she was trying to abide by a set of rules: The protest must remain peaceful and take place on public land outside Judge Kavanaugh’s home, where she said attendees wearing ponchos and placards lined the tree-lined street of the suburb ousted from Chevy Chase, Md.
Near Justice Alito in Alexandria, Virginia, protesters lined the streets flanked by police cars holding lifting signs, including one that asked, “Does this feel pushy?”
But critics say the protesters shouldn’t be there at all. Some Republicans have pointed to a 1950 federal statute that says those “with intent to influence a judge” who “peck or parade in or near a building housing a United States courthouse, or in or near a building or residence occupied or used by such a judge” would violate the law. The Justice Department declined to comment when asked about possible prosecutions.
“You must vigorously investigate and prosecute the crimes committed in recent days,” Missouri Republican Senator Josh Hawley wrote in a letter to the Justice Department. “The rule of law demands no less.”
The protests were not limited to Washington. Over the weekend, Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins called police over protesters who used chalk on the sidewalk outside her Bangor home to write a message asking her to support abortion rights legislation. Two Colorado churches were vandalized last week with spray-painted “my body, my choice” messages.
Rebecca Overmyer-Velázquez, a Whittier College professor who focuses on global social movements, said history has shown that protests — even those that make people uncomfortable — are sometimes necessary to bring about change. She pointed to the civil rights movement, when college students like John Lewis, who later became a congressman from Georgia, were arrested dozens of times for sitting at white-only lunch counters and other protests against Jim Crow-era laws in the South.
“I’m not convinced the rule is whether it’s legal or illegal,” Ms Overmyer-Velázquez said. “I think the question is, is this decision really going to affect our lives very, very seriously? And no doubt it is.”
The State of Roe v. Wade
What is Roe v. Wade? Roe v. Wade is a landmark Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the United States. The 7-2 ruling was announced on Jan. 22, 1973. Judge Harry A. Blackmun, a humble Midwestern Republican and defender of the right to abortion, wrote the majority opinion.
She said the question was not whether protests were legal, but whether they were “moral.”
Mr Biden has dealt with these kinds of questions before.
After demonstrations and riots broke out in the summer of 2020 following the murder of George Floyd by a police officer, the Biden campaign repeatedly condemned violence and looting. And last year, proponents targeted two Democratic senators who upheld Biden’s domestic agenda: taking kayaks to protest at a West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin III yacht and following Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema to a college restroom.
When asked whether those tactics were appropriate, Mr. Biden had his doubts.
“I don’t think it’s the right tactic, but it happens to everyone,” Biden said at the time. “It’s part of the process.”
Some protesters have pointed to the irony that some of the same Republicans who criticized the investigation into the Capitol bombing have now drawn attention to the police response to protests outside the homes of Supreme Court justices.
If those who protest outside the homes of judges should be prosecuted, “why isn’t every person in jail from January 6th?” asked Mrs. Wooten-Holway.
Some of those who disagree with her stance on abortion also support the direct confrontation. Brandi Swindell, who flew to Washington from Idaho on Wednesday to protest outside the Capitol to support Roe’s withdrawal, said “going to the judges’ house peacefully may be acceptable.”
But Michelle Peterson, a Maryland resident who went to the Capitol to support women across the country who may face restrictions on abortion, expressed her unease about taking the protest to a judge’s house.
“I don’t know exactly what I think about it,” she said. “Their families are there.”
In recent days, Ms Wooten-Holway, who said she had an abortion and survived sexual assault, decided to take a break from the demonstrations after anti-abortion activists gathered at her home last weekend and her family received threatening messages.
Since then, she has decided to hire private security guards. She differentiated between her protests across the street from Judge Kavanaugh’s home and those gathered in front of her home over the weekend.
“I protest the fact that Kavanaugh is trying to take away rights and they are protesting the exercise of the First Amendment,” she said. “And I don’t have a wall of security.”
Zach Montague reporting contributed. Kitty Bennett research contributed.