When I pass by the local Planned Parenthood office, which is only a block and a half from my apartment, I stop and say a silent prayer. Sometimes I take out my rosary, discreetly, and speak with Mary. It’s not a frequent occurrence because I try to avoid that building as much as possible, but it happens. Usually, no one else is there. On occasion, one or two older people are on the sidewalk in silent prayer. No entrances are blocked. No pictures of aborted babies are displayed. No names are screamed out, no threats are made. It’s a very somber affair, and the employees at Planned Parenthood are usually familiar with the faces they’ve seen over the years, so they’re not terribly intimidated by grandma and grandpa.
Contrast that with what’s been happening in front of the homes of certain Supreme Court justices. Actually, let’s focus on one home in particular, one that belongs to Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Kavanaugh lives with his two young daughters and his wife in a bucolic corner of D.C. Neighbors on his street who were incensed at the possibility that Roe v. Wade would be overturned organized a protest in front of Kavanaugh’s home. Others have been solicited by trolls on social media who’ve doxxed the justices.
When I walk around my old neighborhood in Delco, I see political signs all of the time. Usually, but not always, I’m not in agreement with the candidates or messages. And that’s okay, because I venerate the principle of free speech and assembly. Having been fired from one publication because of my views and my “troublesome” speech, the idea that sticks and stones can break our bones but words should never hurt us is fundamental to my understanding of human and civil rights.
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So normally, I wouldn’t have a problem with protests outside of a justice’s home, even ones that are boisterous and vaguely intimidating — but the federal criminal code does.
Under 18 USC § 1507, it is a federal crime to try to intimidate judges while they are in the process of making a decision on a particular case. The actual text of the statute says:
“Whoever, with the intent of interfering with, obstructing, or impeding the administration of justice, or with the intent of influencing any judge, juror, witness, or court officer, in the discharge of his duty, pickets or parades in or near a building housing a court of the United States, or in or near a building or residence occupied or used by such judge, juror, witness, or court officer, or with such intent uses any sound-truck or similar device or resorts to any other demonstration in or near any such building or residence, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.”
That’s serious stuff. And while it needs to be proven that the protests are aimed at “obstructing or impeding the administration of justice” and are not just a legitimate expression of concern or anger, it doesn’t seem to be a stretch to conclude that people screaming ugly epithets at justices and their families while hoisting giant blow-ups of coat hangers are engaged in intimidation.
I don’t expect that this Department of Justice will be investigating these protests, nor that we will have a “May 2nd Commission” designed to determine what, if any, uprisings are related to the leaked Roe v. Wade commission. (My tongue is firmly in cheek, so have fun with the hate mail.)
But I do expect that the Department of Justice, which considered rowdy parents at school board meetings to be “domestic terrorists,” would look into this organized and growing effort to intimidate justices who have not yet made a final decision on an admittedly controversial issue. It took President Biden an entire week to tweet out, through his press secretary, a comment about how Americans don’t threaten judges.
That ship not only sailed, it hit an iceberg.
Doxxing folks is dangerous. When State Representative Brian Sims put a bounty on the heads of the pro-life teenagers who prayed outside of that same Planned Parenthood clinic in my neighborhood, every person without a “D” after their names in Harrisburg was horrified. When weepy Washington Post journalist Taylor Lorenz criticized people who disseminated her personal information online (something she turned around and did to the creator of “Libs of Tik Tok”), left-leaning friends wiped her tears. But when the information of conservative justices was leaked to the public to enable harassment in the name of the First Amendment, there was silence from the White House. That’s dangerous.
A generation ago, a young woman named Rebecca Schaeffer was gunned down at her front door by a stalker who tracked her down. You might not remember her, but she was the promising star of a program called “My Sister Sam,” and she had a bright future. But because someone was able to access her private information, she was rendered defenseless.
You might say that addresses are generally public information, and that in any event, none of the abortion rights protestors are homicidal maniacs. You might say that people have a right to let Kavanaugh and the other justices likely to overturn Roe know exactly what they think. You might say that the stakes are so high that these extraordinary measures are understandable. You might say that a Supreme Court justice’s safety pales in comparison to a pregnant woman’s right to autonomy. You might say a lot of things that you think make sense, and sound smart, and look good when chattering with like-minded friends on social media.
But all of that is irrelevant. In a society that respects the rule of law, and not the law of mobs, we cannot allow people to wrap themselves in the First Amendment when they are actually trying to undermine the document it amends.
Enough of this lawlessness. Enough of this arrogance. Enough of this narcissistic clamor for attention. Let the judges do what they need to do, and leave their families alone.
Christine Flowers is an attorney and lifelong Philadelphian. @flowerlady61