In response to the leaked draft of a Supreme Court majority ruling that would overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that protects women’s access to abortion, there’s been hundreds of protests, vigils and teach-ins across the U.S. On May 14 alone, over 450 “Bans Off Our Bodies” events took place in support of abortion rights nationwide.
Women and their supporters have also been peacefully demonstrating in front of the homes of three conservative Supreme Court justices: Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Samuel Alito, who wrote the leaked majority draft opinion.
But some Republican senators, governors and right-wing pundits have called for the arrest and prosecution of these protesters, citing federal statute Title 18, Section 1507 of the U.S. Code. The statute says such actions with “the intent of influencing any judge” to picket or parade “in or near a building or residence occupied or used by such judge, juror, witness or court officer” are illegal.
The statute was part of the Internal Security Act of 1950, a McCarthy-era law enacted to stop people from protesting the prosecutions of alleged communists. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Andrew Perez, senior editor and reporter at The Lever, who discusses this attack on free speech, and the larger issue of the Republican Party’s crackdown on dissent.
ANDREW PEREZ: Right when the leak was was first published, you know, the government started building very tall fences all around the Supreme Court. So I think that activists sort of then decided to mobilize, leading people to the justices’ houses. And, you know, by all accounts, the protests have been completely peaceful.
But what we’ve seen is that conservative lawmakers — it started with just a few, but a number of conservative lawmakers and right-wing pundits and even The Washington Post editorial board are calling for the people protesting outside the judges’ houses to be arrested. And they’re citing a 70-year-old statute that was passed in a McCarthy-era law.
And it was deliberately designed to to target communists, but it cracks down on parading or picketing outside either federal courts or judges’ homes.
SCOTT HARRIS: Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, as reported in your article, sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland asking the Department of Justice to prosecute and arrest these protesters. What’s been the response of the Justice Department?
ANDREW PEREZ: I mean, I think they’ve been asked about it, and they’ve basically said that they’re just monitoring the situation. It’s pretty special coming from Hawley of all people, because when the Jan. 6 insurrection happened at the Capitol, he was photographed giving the protesters this fist salute up in the air only about an hour before those people then stormed the Capitol.
So it’s definitely, you know, pretty rich coming from him. But he’s not alone in this now. There’s actually a whole bunch of senators who have also written their own letters to the Justice Department: Tom Cotton, Chuck Grassley, Marco Rubio, Marsha Blackburn, who have called for them to be arrested. And then 40 House Republicans and also 25 Republican attorneys general, too.
SCOTT HARRIS: We’ve had a series of state governments since the George Floyd protests a couple of summers ago pass laws that would make it more difficult for people to peacefully assemble and hold demonstrations. There’s even been some state laws that permit drivers, motorists to run down protesters who may be in the street in their demonstrations and give those drivers a pass.
In other words, they would be beyond prosecution if they were to injure or kill protesters. This is some serious territory in terms of a war on dissent that we see many Republicans around the country engaging in.
ANDREW PEREZ: Yeah, definitely. A few states did pass laws in the past few years that would allow motorists to run over protesters. Some of them, like in Florida, there’s an anti-rioting act. Basically, they could kind of claim self-defense, that they were concerned for their own well-being.
Oklahoma also passed a similar law, though theirs is a little less radical. But it basically does still allow them to say, “I couldn’t stop or, I didn’t see them,” that they can run over protesters.
What’s really kind of scary about it is, that is what happened in Charlottesville. During a violent protest there, a right-winger did murder a woman, a young woman. So it is pretty scary stuff. All of this is happening amid this Republican crusade where they can just pretend to be highly concerned about about free speech and cancel culture. But, meanwhile, they are looking to criminalize dissent in a pretty serious way.
SCOTT HARRIS: Tell us a little bit about what you think is going on here in terms of this right-wing distraction campaign that seems to be designed to get media focus off the actual likely Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v Wade.
ANDREW PEREZ: Yeah. What you’re going to see if they move to overturn Roe v Wade, about half of the states are going to quickly deny people the right to an abortion and force them to carry their pregnancy to term, you know, with the power of the state.
They want people focused on “Is it wrong to protest at these people’s houses?” “Who leaked this document?” They want people focused on that.
And especially they want the media focused on that instead of the actual issue, which is that the Supreme Court is ready to deny abortion rights to tens and tens of millions of people around this country. It is to an extent working, right? We saw The Washington Post editorial board endorsing this use of a 70-year-old McCarthy era law to arrest protesters.
So, you know, they’re trying to work the refs and get them focused on different topics and it clearly is having some effect.
Listen to Scott Harris’ in-depth interview with Andrew Perez (25:12) and see more articles and opinion pieces in the Related Links section of this page.
For more information on The Lever, visit LeverNews.org.