The governors of Virginia and Maryland have sent a letter to US Attorney General Merrick Garland asking his Department of Justice to clamp down on protests outside the homes of conservative Supreme Court justices on the precipce of voting to restrict abortion rights.
Glenn Youngkin of Virginia and Larry Hogan of Maryland, both Republicans, wrote in the letter on Wednesday that the federal government must “take the lead and provide sustained resources to protect the justices and ensure these residential areas are secure in the weeks and months ahead”.
Abortion rights activists have protested outside the homes of several Supreme Court justice since a draft of an opinion authored by Justice Samuel Alito that would overturn Roe v Wade was leaked to Politico last week.
Protesters have gathered peacefully outside the homes of Mr Alito and his colleagues Brett Kavanaugh and John Roberts, demonstrating against restrictions on reproductive freedom and, in one case, being fed wine and cheese by Mr Alito’s neighbours.
The protests have not been violent, nor have they been markedly different from protests that routinely take place outside the homes of Democratic elected officials like Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi.
But the leak of the draft opinion and resulting protests has been met with dismay by those invested in keeping a nonpartisan public image of the court intact. The US Senate unanimously approved legislation earlier this week to increase security for justices’ families, and Mr Youngkin and Mr Hogan want to see the Justice Department step in as well.
In their letter, the governors cited a federal law that prohibits demonstrating near a judge’s home “with the intent of influencing any judge”.
“While protesting a final opinion from the Supreme Court is commonplace when done on the steps of the court or in the public square, the circumstances of the current picketing at the Justices’ private homes in residential neighborhoods are markedly different,” Mr Youngkin and Mr Hogan wrote.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki did not sound the same note of alarm when addressing President Joe Biden’s position on the protests earlier this week.
“I know that there’s an outrage right now, I guess, about protests that have been peaceful to date, and we certainly do continue to encourage that, outside judges’ homes, and that’s the president’s position,” Ms Psaki said.
The Republican governors wrote that they are committed to work in tandem with local and federal officials to montior any protest actions and make security plans but want the Justice Department to lead those efforts. Mr Garland has already deployed the US Marshals Service to provide security support for the justices.
Some activists have been quick to note that this concern for the safety of the justices, which does not appear to be in jeopardy at this juncture, stands in contrast with the justices’ apparent lack of regard for the safety of people who may no longer be able to get abortions.
Mr Youngkin, for one, has faced resistance on the home front: Farifax County officials this week denied his request to erect a security permiter around the properties of Supreme Court justices in the county.