WASHINGTON — A push to increase security for members of the Supreme Court is gaining momentum in Congress following the arrest of a man who allegedly wanted to assassinate Justice Brett Kavanaugh. This comes as the Department of Homeland Security warns of a potential increase in extremist violence, in part because of a pending Supreme Court decision on abortion rights.
Because that judgment is soon coming down, protesters have been taking to the streets outside the homes of the justices. Fears for the safety of the justices deepened after federal law enforcement arrested a California man carrying a gun, knife and zip ties near Kavanaugh’s Maryland home. According to an affidavit, the 26-year-old man said he bought the gun to kill Kavanaugh and had planned to kill himself as well.
“Last week, we received a terrifying reminder of the failure to act and what the consequences of that might be,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said on the Senate floor on Monday. “We don't have time to spare when it comes to protecting the members of the court and their families."
Cornyn is behind a push to boost security for Supreme Court justices and their family members. The measure passed unanimously in the Senate last month, but has been delayed in the House. Leaders there are pushing for a broader bill to extend protections to staffers of the high court.
“The justices are protected. This issue is not about the justices. It's about staff and the rest,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told journalists last week.
The U.S. is in a heightened threat environment, given the high-profile case about abortion rights, according to Homeland Security. Federal officials warn that the elementary school mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, and the midterm elections also make extremist violence more likely.
Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, believes the additional federal protections sought for the Supreme Court should be extended to abortion providers.
Escobar told Spectrum News that while she understands the frustration around the high court’s willingness to scale back abortion rights, she believes the justices’ homes should be off limits because it can be unfair to the neighbors and families. Escobar added that given the history of violence and harassment at abortion clinics, she wants to authorize $30 million in security grants to providers.
“Just as there is sympathy for the privacy that justices should enjoy in their home, there should be the same kind of sympathy for the privacy needed by people who seek out health care by the physicians who perform that health care and by the staff who provide that health care as well. They, in fact, their protections have been eroded over time,” Escobar said. "This bill seeks to offer them the opportunity to fund some of the security that they need."
The House is expected to vote on a bill this week to also step up protections to Supreme Court employees and their families. It is unclear if such changes would be welcomed in the Senate. While Cornyn said he is open to considering a broader bill, he has previously said it is a misguided effort to include law clerks.
“They still claim that the law clerks and other Supreme Court staff who are virtually anonymous are in dire need of protection too. This is pretty transparently a stalling tactic, a pretty lame excuse,” Cornyn said.