At issue is a statute enacted in 1950: Title 18, Section 1507, of the U.S. Code. The law states that it is illegal, “with the intent of influencing any judge,” to:
Intimidating Justices and Their Children at Home Is Illegal as Well as Disgusting
After the unprecedented leak of a draft of a possible SCOTUS decision on the case overruling Roe v. Wade, pro-abortion activists have decided it would be a good idea to flock en masse outside the neighborhood homes of the Justices to make sure they know that, if the “wrong” decision were handed come late June, they would, in Chuck Schmer’s words, “pay the price.”
Gathering in menacing mobs at the homes of Justices has been defended by exactly those people who, for four years, were loudly aghast at the “breaking of norms.” But as it turns out, the mob activity is not merely disgusting but illegal — or at least such is the view of that right-wing rag, the Washington Post. Its article is quoted in part below.
As the Post puts it:
[T]he comparison between protesting a politician at home and a member of the judiciary at home is inexact. And experts say the latter category of protests is probably illegal regardless of how peaceful the demonstrations are.
picket or parade “in or near a building or residence occupied or used by such judge, juror, witness, or court officer”
“or with such intent,” to resort “to any other demonstration in or near any such building or residence”
Tabatha Abu El-Haj, an expert on protest rights at Drexel University’s law school, said that the current protests at justices’ homes qualify under the statute and that the statute, if tested, would probably be found constitutional.
In 1988’s Frisby v. Schultz, the court upheld a local Wisconsin law that banned protesting targeted at a specific home, as long as protesters were allowed to march through a neighborhood.
Two decades earlier, in 1965, the court upheld a Louisiana law that echoed the federal law’s prohibition on picketing at a court. The laws were enacted amid an outcry over allies of Communist Party defendants picketing federal courthouses.
“A State may adopt safeguards necessary and appropriate to assure that the administration of justice at all stages is free from outside control and influence,” the court ruled in Cox v. Louisiana. “A narrowly drawn statute such as the one under review is obviously a safeguard both necessary and appropriate to vindicate the State’s interest in assuring justice under law.”
The legality of the protests is certainly important. Advocates for abortion rights might argue that, given the stakes and even if illegal, the protests are justified as a form of civil disobedience. (The potential punishments include a fine and up to a year in prison.) But the Biden administration is charged with enforcing federal law. Thus far, the Justice Department hasn’t weighed in.