In March 2020, as the Supreme Court was hearing arguments in a case about a Louisiana abortion law, Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) spoke to a rally on the steps of the Supreme Court and bellowed: “I want to tell you, Gorsuch; I want to tell you, Kavanaugh: You have released the whirlwind, and you will pay the price. You won’t know what hit you if you go forward with these awful decisions!”
His remarks, specifically naming Justices Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh, drew immediate condemnation, and not just from Republicans. American Bar Association President Judy Perry Martinez declared she was “deeply troubled” by Schumer’s “threatening two sitting justices of the U.S. Supreme Court over their upcoming votes in a pending case.” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. issued a rare rebuke, declaring that “threatening statements of this sort from the highest levels of government are not only inappropriate, they are dangerous.”
Early Wednesday, Nicholas John Roske arrived in a taxi at Kavanaugh’s home armed, according to court documents, with a Glock 17, two magazines and ammunition, a tactical knife, pepper spray, a hammer, a screwdriver, a crowbar, zip ties and duct tape. He was later arrested nearby after he called authorities and said he wanted to kill a specific justice, according to federal prosecutors. A Supreme Court spokeswoman identified that justice as Kavanaugh. Roske allegedly told police he was angered by the leaked draft of an opinion by the Supreme Court indicating that it might overturn Roe v. Wade, and that Kavanaugh would seek to loosen gun-control laws. The Justice Department announced later that day that Roske had been indicted on “federal charges of attempted murder of a Supreme Court Justice.”
While not mentioning Schumer, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) correctly pointed out that this “is exactly the kind of event that many worried the unhinged, reckless, apocalyptic rhetoric from prominent figures toward the Court … could make more likely.”
Schumer did not just threaten the justices: After left-wing activists doxed Kavanaugh and other conservatives on the court — publishing their partial addresses online, as well as a map allegedly showing where the justices live — the senator dismissed the danger of protesting in front of justices’ homes. “There’s protests three, four times a week outside my house,” he said. “The American way to peacefully protest is okay.”
No, it’s not okay to protest outside the home of a Supreme Court justice. It’s 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.” But Attorney General Merrick Garland has done absolutely nothing to enforce that law. Indeed, just hours after the potential assassin’s arrest, protesters were back in front of Kavanaugh’s house, violating federal law with impunity and sending him an unambiguous message: We know where you live.
This can’t be allowed to continue. In July 2020 — just a few months after Schumer’s comments — the son of U.S. District Judge Esther Salas was shot and killed in the family’s home; the primary suspect (who shot and killed himself hours later) was a lawyer who had called Salas a “lazy and incompetent” judge. Last Friday, a retired Wisconsin judge, John Roemer, was killed in his home; the suspected gunman had been sentenced by Roemer to six years in prison in connection with an armed burglary. And now we have a man accused of attempting to assassinate a Supreme Court justice.
Imagine what would ensue if a gunman succeeded in killing a conservative justice, and possibly prevented the high court from issuing its expected ruling overturning Roe v. Wade. A Supreme Court decision changed by an assassin’s bullet would cause a constitutional crisis that would make Jan. 6 pale by comparison.
Schumer claims he never intended to threaten violence against Kavanaugh and that he only meant there would be “political consequences … if the Supreme Court, with newly confirmed justices, stripped away a woman’s right to choose.” He called it “a gross distortion to imply otherwise.” But that is not what Schumer says about President Donald Trump’s rhetoric on Jan. 6. As former federal prosecutor Andy McCarthy points out, Democrats claim that “President Trump engaged in such dangerous rhetoric, that he created the conditions that made the Capitol riot … inevitable.” But, McCarthy asks, “What about Sen. Schumer? What about going to the front of the Supreme Court and saying, ‘I’m telling you, Kavanaugh; I’m telling you, Gorsuch: You unleash the whirlwind, and you’re going to pay the price for it’?”
McCarthy is right. Democrats can’t hold Trump responsible for the violence of Jan. 6, but then absolve Schumer of any responsibility for this week’s alleged attempted murder of Kavanaugh. Similarly, Republicans can’t blame Schumer while absolving Trump. The fact is, norms of acceptable behavior are being broken with increasing frequency by politicians on both sides — and this is putting both lives and our democracy at risk. It has to stop.