Protests over the Supreme Court’s expected decision to overturn abortion protections guaranteed by its 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade spread to the streets, right from the move of the court, where judges and their families live, about the limits of acceptable political action. in the United States, igniting debate.
Within hours of the May 2 report that a majority of Supreme Court Justices Roe v. Wade, a protest took place in the court building in downtown Washington.
In the intervening week, law enforcement officers erected a 10-foot fence around the court building, blocking access. Activists have redirected some of their efforts, appearing in groups outside the homes of at least three members of the court: Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justices Samuel Alito and Brett Kavanaugh.
Although the protests have so far been peaceful, lawmakers are so concerned about the safety of judges that the Senate on Monday unanimously approved funding for round-the-clock protective detail for judges and members of their families. The bill awaits action in the House of Representatives.
criticism of protest
For many in Washington, activists’ decisions to protest in front of judges’ homes have crossed a line from legitimate expression to harassment.
In remarks on the Senate floor on Monday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said, “Trying to intimidate federal judges to rule a certain way is outside the bounds of normal First Amendment speech or protest. There is an attempt to replace the rule of law with the rule of the mob.”
“The threat to the physical safety of Supreme Court judges and their families is shameful, and attempts to intimidate and affect the independence of our judiciary cannot be tolerated,” said Texas Senator John Cornyn, a Republican.
Critics of the protests also suggested that they might violate federal law.
Under a 1950 statute, the US Code stipulates that “Whoever, with intent to interfere with, obstruct, or obstruct the administration of justice, or to influence any judge, juror, witness, or officer of the court with intent, his duty, picketing, or parade in or near a building a court in the United States of America, or of a building or residence, or is captured or used by such judge, juror, witness, or officer of the court,” is guilty of an offense and may be subject to fine and/or imprisonment of up to one year.
Writing for Reason magazine, Eugene Volokh, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, said that under a plain reading of the law, “it appears that such protests are illegal.”
Republicans on Capitol Hill and conservative commentators across the country have openly questioned why the Justice Department took no action against the protesters.
On Tuesday, asked whether he was “comfortable” with the protests taking place in front of individual judges’ homes, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he was.
“If the protest is peaceful? Yes,” said Schumer, pointing out that there are protests in front of his home in New York several times per week.
“It’s the American way,” he said. “It’s okay to protest peacefully.”
“Protests involving political considerations are part and parcel of the DNA of what it means to be the United States—this country was founded out of protest,” William F. Hall, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Washington, Webster University and Maryville University, all in St. Louis, told VOA.
“In this particular instance, the outrage over this leak and the potentially impending decision to overthrow Roe v. Wade fits perfectly in that context,” Hall said.
a ‘feeling of despair’
Psychologist Lauren Duncan, a professor of psychology at Smith College who studies protest movements, told VOA that given the circumstances, she didn’t find it surprising that protesters were trying to take their concerns directly to judges.
A vast majority of Americans do not want Roe vs. Wade to turn around. The fact that the Supreme Court is ready to move on anyway, Duncan said, makes a broad section of the population feel as though the court is simply not recognizing its concerns.
“The justices we have right now, Alito in particular, are immune to public opinion,” Duncan said. “That’s part of what feeds this sense of desperation. They are not being heard. These protesters feel they are not being heard.”
unlikely to change mind
Dina Rohlinger, a professor of sociology at Florida State University who studies protest movements, told VOA that protests directed at individual members of the Supreme Court will not affect their decision—just as protests directed at politicians often fail to convert them.
“When you’re talking about politics it rarely works with the intended goal,” she said. “It can work with a corporation, but with politicians, what it usually does is harden their approach.”
However, persuasion is not the only object of protest, she said.
“It can be the effect of mobilizing other people. It brings attention to the cause,” she said.
“It’s a way of holding people to account,” Roehlinger said. “When we come to the midterm elections it can be used in political advertising and in many other ways. So, it is rarely about the target. It is more about everything else that gives protest activists an idea.” can help to do beyond change.”