Merrick Garland: Threats against Supreme Court justices are taken ‘extraordinarily seriously’

Jun 15, 2022, 1:38 PM | Updated: Jun 25, 2022, 8:52 pm

Attorney General Merrick Garland, left, said on June 15 that the Justice Department takes threats a...

Attorney General Merrick Garland, left, said on June 15 that the Justice Department takes threats against Supreme Court justices "extraordinarily seriously" as he voiced support for a bill that extends security protections to justices' immediate family members. (Pool via CNN)

(Pool via CNN)

(CNN) — Attorney General Merrick Garland said Wednesday that the Justice Department takes threats against Supreme Court justices “extraordinarily seriously” as he voiced support for a bill that extends security protections to justices’ immediate family members.

Garland reiterated that justices now receive “24-7 protection,” including at their residences, and he said he’s met with the Marshal of the Supreme Court, the FBI and others, “to be sure that we were assessing all possible threats and providing all resources available.”

The safety of Supreme Court justices has been in the spotlight following the leak of a draft majority opinion that would strike down Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion nationwide. The leak has sparked public outcry and led to an increase in protests over the potential for the landmark ruling to be overturned.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee issued a letter to Garland Wednesday demanding answers about a lack of prosecutions after a number of recent protests at Supreme Court justices’ houses, and amid heightened threats. Last week, authorities arrested a California man they say was plotting to kill Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

The House voted 396-27 on Tuesday to pass a bill extending security protections to Supreme Court justices’ immediate family members. President Joe Biden is expected to sign it into law.

The Justice Department had declined to comment on calls to enforce a current federal law that essentially bans protesting outside homes of members of the court for the purpose of influencing in the judicial system.

The law is rarely enforced and broadly written. It also covers any “picketing or parading” in front of a courthouse that is intended to influence “any judge, juror, witness, or court officer, in the discharge of his duty.” That could be interpreted to cover protests that are regularly held outside the Supreme Court, including the annual March for Life, an anti-abortion protest.

Sen. Chris Coons, a Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, told CNN that arresting protesters at justices’ homes is “a judgment call to be made by law enforcement.”

“As an elected official, I’ve certainly had enough protests outside my house, and I think that’s a critical part of the First Amendment and the ability of Americans to express their anger, their discontent, their unhappiness with either elected officials or the judicial branch,” Coons said. “But I do think we need to be mindful, given credible recent threats, and given a tragic incident that happened in New Jersey.”

The son of U.S. District Judge Esther Salas’ was killed in a 2020 shooting at her home in New Jersey.

“We need to be very mindful of ensuring the security of our federal judiciary, their families, their staff, and so I’m glad the House has moved forward with a bill that would expand some of that response,” Coons added.

Montgomery County Police Chief Marcus Jones, whose Maryland jurisdiction includes the homes of several justices, told CNN he doesn’t enforce federal law but that there are “state and local laws that pertain to protests.”

“They are allowed to be in the neighborhoods, but they must continuously walk, they cannot stand specifically in front of a neighborhood with signs and bull horns and yelling at the residents,” Jones said about the rules for protesters. “They must not block sidewalks, and they must not block the streets.”

“If they violate any of those … particular regulations, then we will arrest them,” he added.

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Merrick Garland: Threats against Supreme Court justices are taken ‘extraordinarily seriously’