The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Protesting at justices’ homes is illegal. What is Biden doing about it?

A hanger symbolizing abortion is seen in chalk on the ground outside the home of Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh in Chevy Chase, Md., on May 7. (Craig Hudson/For the Washington Post)
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Protesters outside Brett M. Kavanaugh’s house warned the Supreme Court justice this weekend, “If you take away our choices, we will riot.” They marched on Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr.’s home chanting “Abort the court!” and stood outside the home of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. (who apparently did not vote to overturn Roe v. Wade) yelling “The whole world is watching!”

This is not just noxious behavior; it is illegal. Federal law — Section 1507 of Title 18 of the U.S. Code — clearly states that it is unlawful to protest near a “residence occupied or used by [a] judge, juror, witness, or court officer” with the intent of influencing “the discharge of his duty,” adding that anyone who “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.”

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.

So, what is the Biden administration doing about it? This is a federal statute, so it’s Attorney General Merrick Garland’s responsibility to enforce it. When the National School Boards Association wrote to President Biden complaining about angry parents showing up at school board meetings, Garland immediately issued a memorandum to the director of the FBI ordering him to “convene meetings … in each federal judicial district” to discuss “strategies for addressing threats” made by parents. The Justice Department further announced Garland would form “a task force, consisting of representatives from the department’s … National Security Division” — created by the Patriot Act to investigate terrorists — to “determine how federal enforcement tools can be used to prosecute these crimes.”

Garland declared at the time, “Threats against public servants are not only illegal, they run counter to our nation’s core values.” I’m sorry, are Supreme Court justices not public servants? Does attempting to intimidate them not run counter to our nation’s core values? In the case of the school boards association, not one of the incidents they cited involved a violation of federal law, yet Garland swung into action. But the harassment of justices at their homes does violate federal law and what is Garland doing? Despite multiple inquiries, Justice Department spokesman Anthony Coley refused to explain what steps Garland was taking to protect justices or enforce the law.

The Post's View: Leave the justices alone at home

Garland’s failure to act is an appalling dereliction of duty. So is Biden’s failure to condemn the protests. During his victory speech after the election, Biden declared that it was time “stop treating our opponents as our enemy.” In his inaugural address, he promised to “end this uncivil war” and put “my whole soul” into “bringing America together.”

Not only has he failed to fulfill that promise, he has modeled the bad behavior these protesters are now emulating. When Republicans blocked his partisan election law, Biden accused them of standing with racists and traitors, and called them “enemies” of America, thundering, “I will defend the right to vote, our democracy against all enemies — foreign and, yes, domestic.” That sent a signal that our fellow Americans who disagree with us are in fact “enemies” and can be treated as such. When someone is your enemy, then there is nothing to stop you from showing up at their house to threaten and intimidate them.

Asked last Friday about the group calling itself “Ruth Sent Us,” which published the locations of the justices’ homes on its website, White House press secretary Jen Psaki refused to condemn the doxing. “We want people to protest peacefully if they want to,” she said, adding that she didn’t have “an official U.S. government position on where people protest.”

There is in fact an “official U.S. government position on where people protest” — it’s 18 U.S.C. 1507. After someone firebombed a pro-life group’s offices in Wisconsin on Sunday, Psaki belatedly tweeted that the Biden “strongly believes in the Constitutional right to protest. But that should never include violence, threats, or vandalism.” It took someone throwing a Molotov cocktail at pro-lifers to elicit even that mild criticism. What will it take to get the president to order his attorney general to enforce federal law barring harassment of the justices and their families in their homes?

Last year, when left-wing protesters followed Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) into a bathroom, filming as they yelled at her over her opposition to Biden’s Build Back Better legislation, the president dismissed her harassment, declaring it was “part of the process.” It’s not. It’s appalling behavior. But it’s not illegal. Well, harassing Supreme Court justices in their homes is against the law. It’s time for Biden to enforce that law before someone gets hurt.