A major objective of the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on Congress is to prevent a repeat. But even as the committee pounds away at last year’s events in new televised hearings, the “next” Jan. 6 is already in progress. This time, the mob is from the left, and the targeted institution is the Supreme Court as it resolves high-profile cases on abortion and guns.
Of course, political shocks never recur with exactitude. But there are clear parallels between last year’s Trumpist movement to obstruct Congress and the current progressive movement to obstruct the Supreme Court. Consider four points of comparison — the premise, the intent, the methods and the response.
The Jan. 6 premise. The Capitol assault was based on the premise that one of the United States’ three branches of government was rendered illegitimate through theft or fraud. After the 2020 election, President Donald Trump and his supporters leveled this accusation at the executive branch — specifically, the incoming president.
Now, such claims are repeated nearly verbatim by Democrats attacking conservative Supreme Court justices, who sit atop the coequal judicial branch. This language is justified by reference to a variety of complaints about the court, most commonly the Republican-run Senate’s refusal to consider President Barack Obama’s nominee in 2016. Some of the court’s progressive antagonists consider subsequent Trump-appointed justices — Neil M. Gorsuch, Brett M. Kavanaugh or Amy Coney Barrett — to unjustly occupy their seats.
Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), who last month on Twitter described the Supreme Court majority as “stolen, illegitimate and far-right,” is emerging as one of the most dogged demagogues in the Jan. 6 sequel. Two weeks ago, he repeated his claim that the court was “illegitimate” in an address before a crowd of protesters in Washington. He called for court-packing to “get back the two stolen seats” (apparently Gorsuch’s and Barrett’s).
What’s the difference between pronouncing a duly elected president illegitimate and declaring the same about duly confirmed justices of the high court? For some liberals, it’s simply that they agree with the latter claim. The merits of such grievances are beside the point. The significant parallel is that partisan extremists, fearing the loss of ideological control over a branch of government, seek to fundamentally attack and nullify its authority.
The Jan. 6 intent. The Trumpist intent in the aftermath of the 2020 election won by Joe Biden was to obstruct the certification of that victory. Similarly, now that the Supreme Court has a conservative-leaning majority, progressives want to hamper the ability of the court to decide the law.
That’s why one federal judge suggested that, depending on the circumstances, the leaker of Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr.’s draft opinion last month overturning Roe v. Wade could have violated a federal statute prohibiting efforts to corruptly influence an official proceeding. The same charge has been used against many Jan. 6 defendants — and Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) has speculated about its use against Trump.
The Jan. 6 methods. Progressives are deploying a mix of incendiary rhetoric, procedural extremism and mob assemblies to try to intimidate their targets — echoing the Trumpist tactics of last year.
In his infamous Jan. 6 speech at the Ellipse, Trump menaced Congress and directed his supporters to march on the Capitol. In then-Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer’s March 2020 speech to a progressive crowd in front of the Supreme Court, the New York Democrat was even more explicitly threatening: “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.”
The leak of Alito’s draft opinion resulted in an escalating left-wing pressure campaign against the conservative justices. Mobs have assembled outside some of their homes in recent weeks, in violation of a federal statute protecting judges and juries from such targeted interference. The presence of those mobs was blessed by the White House.
The toleration of unlawful assemblies attracts criminality. We saw that on Jan. 6, as violent groups operated within the pro-Trump protest to force their way into the Capitol. And we saw it on Wednesday, when, according to the Justice Department, an armed and apparently disturbed man appeared outside Kavanaugh’s house. He has been charged with attempting to murder the justice. While some members of the mob on Jan. 6 screamed about murdering Vice President Mike Pence, no one has been charged with having that intent.
The Jan. 6 response. The Justice Department has taken extraordinary measures to apprehend those who assembled illegally on Jan. 6, including protesters whom it has not charged with violence. By contrast, no prosecutions of those protesting illegally at the justices’ homes have been reported.
The Jan. 6 assault on the election failed, and officials are establishing deterrence against a replay. Yet the parallel political campaign to undermine the Supreme Court is building with much of elite Washington’s approval. If Republicans take control of Congress in 2023, the Senate and House judiciary committees should take immediate aim at efforts to interfere with the court. The Jan. 6 committee can be a partial model.