I joined a noisy, peaceful protest outside the Supreme Court Building last Monday night after right-wing Justice Samuel Alito’s draft ruling striking down Roe v. Wade became public. As I’ve written, for a while the rowdy, empowered crowd chanted “Fuck Alito!” I’m honestly not sure if I joined in; it was all a blur of grief and rage. But I probably did.
Would I have joined a protest outside the homes of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh if I’d been in Washington this weekend, or the one outside Alito’s home Monday night? (As far as I’ve seen, protesters stayed on the public sidewalk, and off the justices’ private property.) I don’t know. I’m frightfully civil. On one level, picketing someone’s home feels out-there to me. On the other hand, they’re about to let the government invade our bodies, so… maybe. I certainly have no problem with other people doing it.
But damn, a lot of other Democrats seem to.
On Monday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said President Biden abhors “violence, threats, or vandalism,” and that judges “must be able to do their jobs without concern for their personal safety.” The same day Senate Democrats joined Republicans in passing a bill by unanimous consent to hike security for justices and their families. “We must take threats that come from extremes on both sides of the political spectrum against Supreme Court Justices seriously, and that makes this bill an unfortunate necessity,” said bill cosponsor Democratic Senator Chris Coons. There is no evidence that any justice has been “threatened,” except with noisy people outside.
Oh, and there was no additional protection added for abortion providers, who have in fact been threatened, even murdered, by anti-choice zealots. From 1922 to 2020, there were at least 11 murders, 26 attempted murders, and 956 threats of harm or death directed against providers or clients, according to the National Abortion Federation.
An almost certainly false report circulated yesterday that Alito was in hiding for fear for his own safety. The person who originally reported that, conservative lawyer and right-wing troll Ilya Shapiro, ultimately backed down. Asked for his source by Politico, he said, “I don’t have any non-public sources. I forget whether I saw the rumor on Twitter or somebody told me. I don’t know.” We are indeed being played.
The Washington Post harrumphed against the protests in an editorial Tuesday morning. Its key point: “To picket a judge’s home is especially problematic. It tries to bring direct public pressure to bear on a decision-making process that must be controlled, evidence-based and rational if there is to be any hope of an independent judiciary.”
Are you trying to tell us the Supreme Court is somehow beyond the reach of politics? Are you paying attention? Are you aware that five justices, all conservative, were appointed by two GOP presidents who didn’t win the popular vote? Do you remember Mitch McConnell deciding that our first Black president, Barack Obama, was only entitled to three-fourths of his second term, when he blocked Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court with a full year left of his presidency (in an echo of the three-fifths rule regarding the personhood of enslaved people back in the day)? “Controlled, evidence-based and rational”? “Independent judiciary”? Are you fucking kidding me?
Meanwhile, sad Susan Collins, the gaslighting GOP senator from Maine, called the police because local protesters had written on the sidewalk outside her house—in washable chalk—asking her to “please” support the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would codify Roe. No word yet about whether Senate Democrats have organized a squad to go clean the chalk from outside Collins’s lovely Bangor home, or have stiffened penalties for chalk vandals. (By the way, the sidewalk isn’t her personal property.)
I’m very worried about the civility fetish among Democrats today. I’m for nonviolent protest only. I don’t support property destruction, especially because it can inadvertently lead to injuring or even killing innocent people. But I think we’d better get used to more nonviolent (if perhaps noisy) protest, as a minority of Americans impose their rules on the majority, thanks to the undemocratic slant of institutions like the Senate and the Electoral College. The fact is, throughout American history none of our rights have been secured—not women’s rights, not labor rights, not the civil rights of people of color, nor LGBTQ rights—without massive protest.
Of course, I always urge people to vote, and to vote Democratic, to reverse this regressive tide. But the vote alone has frequently proven inadequate to secure needed social change, and as Republicans curtail voting rights even further, I worry even more about the power of our vote. Democrats had better get more comfortable with noisy, angry public protest—or they will alienate people who are coming to believe, with some evidence, that voting for Democrats won’t protect their rights.