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Supreme Court asks Maryland, Virginia officials to stop people picketing at justices’ houses

Protest activity and threatening behavior outside the homes of justices has increased since the draft Supreme Court abortion decision was leaked, the court's security chief said.
A demonstrator stands in front of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh's house
A demonstrator stands in front of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh's house during an abortion rights protest in Chevy Chase, Md., on May 18, 2022. Allison Bailey / NurPhoto via AP file

WASHINGTON — Gail Curley, the Supreme Court’s marshal, has written to the governors of Maryland and Virginia and local officials in suburban Washington, D.C., asking them to enforce state and county laws that prohibit picketing at private homes.  

In the letter to Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, she said laws in his state prohibits assembling “with another in a manner that disrupts a person’s right to tranquility in the person’s home,” and provides a penalty of up to 90 days in jail. 

When the demonstrations began, after the draft Supreme Court abortion opinion was leaked in May, Hogan said he was “deeply concerned” that hundreds of people were picketing outside the homes of some justices who live in his state.

“Since then, protest activity at justices’ homes, as well as threatening activity, has only increased,” Curley said in the letter, with large groups using bullhorns and banging drums. “This is exactly the kind of conduct that Maryland and Montgomery County laws prohibit.”

The high court in late June overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade, which guaranteed a constitutional right to abortion.

In the past week, Curley continued, 75 protesters “loudly picketed at one justice’s home in Maryland for 20-30 minutes in the evening, then proceeded to picket at another justice’s home for 30 minutes, where the crowd grew to 100, and finally returned to the first justice’s home to picket for another 20 minutes.”

In a letter to Marc Elrich, the executive of Montgomery County, Curley said a separate county law prohibits picketing “in front of or adjacent to any private residence.” She noted that the author of the county ordinance has urged county officials to enforce the law against protesters who gather outside the justices’ homes.

Both letters to the Maryland officials were dated Friday. The marshal also sent letters Saturday to Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, and Jeffrey McKay, chair of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in Northern Virginia, where other justices' live, asking for enforcement of a similar Virginia law.

The response from Maryland officials was lukewarm. In a statement on Saturday, Hogan’s office said the Maryland Attorney General's office has questioned the constitutionality of the state’s anti-picketing law, and noted that the Justice Department has declined to enforce federal laws that would stop the demonstrations.

“In light of the continued refusal by multiple federal entities to act, the governor has directed Maryland state police to further review enforcement options that respect the First Amendment and the Constitution,” said Michael Ricci, Hogan's communications director.

After the marshal’s letters became public, Elrich, the Montgomery County official, said it was “counterproductive” to discuss security arrangements publicly. He, too, said the primary responsibility for the safety of the justices lies with the federal government.

Following the leak of the draft abortion opinion, a California man was arrested after flying to Washington from California and taking a taxi to the home of Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Court documents said he told police he came to kill the justice and then himself. The man, Nicholas Roske, has pleaded not guilty.

The court’s marshal is ultimately in charge of court security and the Supreme Court’s own police force.