If the Supreme Court police need more authority or funding to adequately protect the justices, they should have it; the same goes for the US Marshals Service, which provides security for lower court judges. If other measures are necessary to protect the judges’ or judges’ personal information, such as their home addresses, this should also be done.
The hard part is to seriously tackle the implications of this episode, which could have ended in unfathomable tragedy. It means not shirking responsibility for helping to create a climate of unbridled intolerance that may have fueled this dangerous moment. But it also means not rushing to assign blame or hijack the episode to bolster pre-existing conclusions. Deranged individuals do deranged things, and this is true at both ends of the political spectrum.
A handful of federal judges have been killed in office, mostly by disgruntled litigants. In 2005, the husband and mother of a Chicago federal judge were murdered. In 2020, the son of a federal judge was shot and killed in her home by a man who lost a case before her; there was evidence the man was also targeting Judge Sonia Sotomayor.
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But in the terrible spasms of politically motivated violence that have plagued the nation, the judiciary has, thankfully, been largely exempt. In the age of civil rights, brave southern justices tasked with implementing the Supreme Court’s desegregation orders have been threatened with violence. As The New York Times obituary for Alabama, Federal Judge Frank M. Johnson Jr. recalled, “Crosses were burned twice on his lawn. Her mother’s house was burned down, although she was not injured. For nearly two decades, federal marshals protected the judge and his family.
Do we now find ourselves in another such era, with abortion-rights protesters taking the place of mass resisters? And, if so, are the Democrats who speak out against the excesses, past and future, of this Supreme Court complicit in the threat of violence in the same way that segregationist politicians incited Justice Johnson’s attackers?
I don’t think the two are comparable, but it is true that some have gone too far in their rhetoric. One is Sen. Charles E. Schumer (DN.Y.), who stood on the steps of the Supreme Court in 2020 ahead of a Supreme Court ruling on a Louisiana abortion law and thundered , about Kavanaugh and Trump appointee Neil M. Gorsuch, “I want to tell you, Gorsuch. I want to tell you, Kavanaugh. you won’t know what hit you if you go ahead with these horrible decisions.
Schumer said he had no intention of threatening the judges or inciting violence, but in the current environment his language was unnecessarily inflammatory. “Threatening statements like these from the highest levels of government are not only inappropriate, they are dangerous,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. warned, and the recent episode would appear to prove his point. .
Yet it is possible to take this argument too far. Opponents of abortion speak passionately about the imperative to protect unborn human life. Are they also responsible for liquidating fanatics who have taken the next steps by bombing abortion clinics or murdering doctors who perform abortions?
Somehow, those who complain about excess rhetoric on one side are loath to hold those with whom they agree to the same standards. Indeed, Schumer’s language was eerily reminiscent of Kavanaugh’s angry screed at Democrats. during his confirmation hearings: “You have sown the wind, the country will reap the storm.” Those who castigated Kavanaugh cannot credibly excuse Schumer, but also vice versa.
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Some will no doubt take the Kavanaugh episode as further proof that the court is reaping the terrible consequences of its reckless intervention in Roe vs. Wade itself—bringing the judiciary into a debate best left to the political branches. This too is not convincing.
“The sad reality is that since the court took the issue of abortion out of the hands of state legislatures and handed it over to nine unelected judges, deer has poisoned our politics, our institutions, and our civic discourse,” O. Carter Snead, a law professor at the University of Notre Dame, wrote in an op-ed after the leaked draft ruling in the case of the Mississippi, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
I think the reality is more complicated: that abortion is a deeply contested, deeply felt moral issue on which people disagree vigorously and irrevocably. It will continue or not deer is overthrown.
Indeed, the man arrested outside Kavanaugh’s home said not only was he “upset” about the draft leaking into the Dobbs case, but also that he was concerned that Kavanaugh “would go along with Second Amendment rulings that would relax gun control laws.” Somehow no one on the Conservative side is complaining that the court erred in shifting the democratic process on gun rights.
We should be grateful that the man arrested outside Kavanaugh’s house couldn’t go further with his plan. But at the same time, we have to be equally mindful of the systemic vulnerabilities exposed by its plot – and be careful not to read too much into the actions of a deranged individual.