Protest Block Parties
Inside the groups picketing outside Supreme Court justices’ homes in the wake of the abortion draft opinion leak.
ALEXANDRIA, Va.—A young crowd of roughly 100 pro-abortion rights protesters gathered in the parking lot of a Walgreens in downtown Alexandria Monday evening. In a few moments, they would march down quiet neighborhood streets until they reached Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s home.
Monday’s march came on the heels of a Supreme Court draft opinion written by Alito and leaked earlier this month showing that a majority of justices may vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision that enshrined a right to abortion. In response, the pro-abortion rights group Ruth Sent Us announced plans last week to send protesters to “homes of the six extremist justices, three in Virginia and three in Maryland.”
Before Monday’s march to Alito’s house, rally organizers laid down ground rules. “Breathe in, breathe out,” one organizer said through a megaphone. Number one: Don’t engage with the police. She then pointed to the organization’s police liaison, a lanky 20-something named Daniel wearing a reflective safety vest. And number two: Be wary of engaging with the press.
“Make sure you know who they are,” the rally organizer said. Only volunteer first or middle names when speaking with reporters, she warned, and try not to engage with conservative outlets like Breitbart, The Daily Signal, and The Daily Caller. “You might want to see their ID. Anti-choicers love to get you on camera acting goofy, you know, they can do whatever they want to their videos,” the organizer added.
Another organizer then led the group in warm-up chants. “Pro-life is a lie, you don’t care if people die!” “Alito says post-Roe, we say hell no!”
The flurry of protests outside Supreme Court justices’ homes has elicited condemnation from Republicans and a mixed response from Democrats, some of whom have actively encouraged the protests. “So I know that there’s an outrage right now, I guess, about protests that have been peaceful to date,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said earlier this week. “And we certainly continue to encourage that outside of judges’ homes and that’s the president’s position,” she added, encouraging protesters to remain peaceful.
“They’re terrorizing those families—I don’t like it,” Republican Sen. Joni Ernst, vice chair of the Senate Republican conference, told The Dispatch in a brief interview on Wednesday. “I appreciate the First Amendment, but the fact that we’ve had some that are so slow to condemn it is really a sad state of affairs.”
Republican lawmakers like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell are also questioning the legality of this week’s protests, citing a 1950 federal statute outlawing demonstrations “in or near a building or residence occupied or used by such judge, juror, witness, or court officer,” when the intent is to “influence any judge.” Violators can face fines or up to a year in prison.
“It’s illegal to try to influence a judge in a federal matter,” GOP Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida said in an interview Wednesday. He believes the Justice Department should get involved. “I think something bad is going to happen. It’s creating a very dangerous precedent.”
Federal enforcement of the law falls under the purview of the Biden administration. On Wednesday, Republican Govs. Glenn Youngkin of Virginia and Larry Hogan of Maryland asked Attorney General Merrick Garland to enforce the code, calling the current efforts to protest justices’ homes in residential neighborhoods “markedly different” than protesting in front of the Supreme Court.
Democrats have largely condoned the protests so long as they remain peaceful. “I don’t know of any place in the country that isn’t subject to peaceful protests taking place,” Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey said in an interview Wednesday. “So from my perspective, I’ve had it at my office, I’ve had it at my home.”
As the demonstrators neared Alito’s home Monday evening, with its darkened windows and contingent of local police out front, neighbors met them with a mixed response.
One woman came out to scope out the crowd, but quickly retreated inside and shut the door. “Join us!” one protester yelled to passersby. “Your neighbor’s an asshole!” said another.
A few houses down, a handful of women stood near the sidewalk and watched. “We’re with you!” one of Alito’s neighbors said in response, though she declined to join in the march.
Upon reaching the house, the crowd heard from three speakers. “I believe abortion should be available to all pregnant people regardless of the reason,” a speaker named Lauren told the crowd. “Please bother your Congress people to take action. I’m a D.C. resident. I don’t have a Congress person. If you’re in any other state you do, so call their asses up every day.”
Another speaker, Tom, expressed indifference to any blowback that evening’s protest might incite from lawmakers. “These protests are making our leaders—both Republicans and Democrats—uncomfortable, so they should continue,” he said. “If they think they can take away our rights and not face the consequences of our rights, they’re wrong.”
Once the speeches concluded, a few protesters lit a row of candles they had placed in the street in front of Alito’s house. Attendees then retraced their steps and marched back to Walgreens. The sky had grown dark and chants filled the air: “Abort the court!” “F—k the court and the legislature, we are not your incubators!”
Few pro-abortion rights activists who have protested in front of justices’ homes this week have shared their full names with reporters, possibly to avoid running afoul of local picketing laws in Virginia, where Justices Barrett and Alito live, and disturbance of the peace laws in Maryland, where Kavanaugh lives.
One protester from New York who attended a march to Kavanaugh’s house Wednesday evening said she isn’t persuaded by Republican lawmakers’ focus on the legality of the protests.
“If it was illegal I’m sure someone would’ve done something as opposed to accommodate us because it’s not the spirit of the law they keep citing,” she said, while carting a wagon covered in pro-choice signs. “They’re just making up stories to get people riled up—take the attention off of them removing our constitutional rights.” About 10 other protesters joined her in front of Kavanaugh’s house Wednesday evening.
A small fleet of police officers stood in front of Kavanaugh’s house as the small crowd of protesters made their way through the streets. “It’s difficult to protest in a residential neighborhood without violating some sort of law, okay, because you can’t picket a particular residence,” Lt. Peter Davidov of the Montgomery County Police Department said in an interview.
Wednesday evening’s protests came hours after Senate Republicans blocked an effort by Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to advance the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA) and codify abortion rights into federal law. The bill, which would loosen most abortion restrictions passed by individual states, failed in a 49-51 vote, with Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia joining Republicans in voting against.
Moderate pro-Roe Republican senators Susan Collins from Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska also voted against the bill, arguing it goes too far in striking down state restrictions on abortion. “The WHPA’s overly broad language far exceeds Roe by striking down state laws such as those that require certain materials to be given to the patient, prohibit sex-based abortions, or require parental or guardian notification for minors seeking an abortion,” Collins said in a statement this week.
Collins and Murkowski hoped instead to advance a separate bill they co-sponsored, the Reproductive Health Act, which would codify Roe and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the 1992 Supreme Court case that prohibits state laws that place an “undue burden” on any woman seeking abortion.
Senate Democrats fell 11 votes short of the filibuster’s 60-vote threshold in Wednesday’s vote on the WHPA. “Historically, there have been abortion votes on the floor of the Senate. None of them have achieved 60 votes,” Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania told reporters Tuesday. “It’s safe to say there aren’t 60 votes there at the federal level.”
Casey was one of 49 Senate Democrats to vote in favor of the Women’s Health Protection Act on Wednesday, though he has previously expressed opposition to Roe v. Wade. “The circumstances around the entire debate on abortion have changed,” he said Tuesday, adding that he does not favor a “categorical ban” on abortion.
Pro-abortion rights activists are unsurprised by Wednesday’s vote. “This is just smoke and mirrors, this is just performative,” Nadine Seiler said in an interview outside the Supreme Court Wednesday afternoon.
Selier is one of many pro-abortion rights activists who have spent the past week protesting in front of Supreme Court justices’ homes. When asked by The Dispatch whether she knew of any protests scheduled to take place outside of justices’ houses Wednesday evening, she recited Kavanaugh’s address by memory.