Below is my column in USA Today on the alleged attempted murder of Justice Brett Kavanaugh at his home outside of Washington, D.C. Less than 24 hours later, protesters were back in front of the Kavanaugh home as well as the home of Justice Amy Coney Barrett. In addition, pro-choice activists posted the location of the school of the Barrett children. It is all part of a national rage addiction where neither decency nor responsibility are relevant. Indeed, seven children of a justice are no longer even a concern in venting one’s rage.
Here is the column:
The arrest of a man near of the home of Justice Brett Kavanaugh early Wednesday is a chilling escalation in our age of rage.
Police said the man, identified in court records as Nicholas John Roske of California, had a pack carrying a Glock pistol, a tactical knife, pepper spray, zip ties, a hammer and a crow bar.
Roske, according to news reports, was angry that the Supreme Court may overturn Roe v. Wade this month. He faces charges of attempting to kidnap, murder or threaten a federal judge. (This incident came after a judge was recently zip tied and killed in his Wisconsin home; a former defendant in the judge’s courtroom has been charged.)
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Rhetoric raises heat against the court
Politicians and commentators rushed to condemn the threat. Few of them, however, are willing to admit that it was both shocking but not surprising. For months, critics of the Supreme Court have ratcheted up the rhetoric against Kavanaugh and his colleagues, including calls for protesters to be more aggressive outside the justices’ homes.
Politicians and pundits have raced to the bottom by discarding any sense of restraint or responsibility in denouncing the court’s conservative majority over a leaked draft of an opinion, written by Justice Samuel Alito, that made the case for overturning Roe.
Some of us expressed disgust at the threat made two years ago by Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer on the steps of the Supreme Court when he called out Kavanaugh by name: “I want to tell you, (Justice Neil) Gorsuch. I want to tell you, Kavanaugh. You have released the whirlwind and you will pay the price. You won’t know what hit you if you go forward with these awful decisions.”
If Kavanaugh had any doubts about the price before, he and his family now know.
The day before the arrest Wednesday, I testified in the Senate Judiciary Committee on new legislation in which Democratic members are seeking to force the FBI to prioritize the investigation of white supremacists for terrorism. In the hearing, senators attacked Fox News and political opponents for fueling terrorism with their rhetoric. (For the record, I am a Fox contributor.) Some of us were attacked in the media for noting that extremist violence, including lethal attacks, have come from both the left and the right.
While I believe that parts of the Democratic bill are unconstitutional and threaten free speech rights, I agree with the condemnation of extreme rhetoric. However, such condemnation should acknowledge the extreme language used on the left as well as the right.
Leaked Dobbs v. Jackson opinion
The leak of the draft opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization was used as a license by many to unleash their anger on these justices. While some of us warned of the danger posed by groups targeting the justices, others expressed joy that the justices might be afraid to leave their homes.
“The View” co-host Joy Behar declared, “It also shows Alito what it feels like to lose your freedom of choice. He cannot leave the house easily. So maybe that’s a good lesson for them.”
Even law professors seemed to call for mob action. Georgetown law professor Josh Chafetz declared that “when the mob is right, some (but not all!) more aggressive tactics are justified.”
CNN’s Laura Jarrett’s take on those saying that targeting the justices’ homes was excessive and wrong: “I think for a lot of people a conversation about civility feels like it misses the mark.”
Some politicians have also taken lightly far-left militants Antifa, a large anti-free speech movement. House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler has called the 2020 Antifa violent protests in Portland, Oregon, “a myth.”
Others have been more direct in their support. Many of us were appalled when former Democratic National Committee Deputy Chair Keith Ellison, now the Minnesota attorney general, said Antifa would “strike fear in the heart” of Donald Trump.
Last year, Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., told George Floyd protesters in Minnesota to “get more confrontational” if a jury found former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin not guilty. And when Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, was threatened in 2018 because she had not opposed Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., mocked the concern over her safety with “boo hoo hoo.”
For her part, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke loudly when she failed to condemn left-wing mobs destroying statues and historic displays in her home city of San Francisco. Pelosi shrugged and said, “People will do what they do.”
The arrest near Justice Kavanaugh’s home frighteningly shows what some people will do.
Supreme Court’s legitimacy
While I do not believe that these politicians would ever countenance violence, they have spent months attacking the legitimacy of the nation’s highest court because they disagree with the justices’ rulings.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., even questioned the institution’s value: “How much does the current structure benefit us? And I don’t think it does.”
Other leaders have supported the idea that, if the court did not yield to their demands, there is a license to take extreme measures like court packing. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., issued a warning to the Supreme Court: Reaffirm Roe v. Wade or face a “revolution.”
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Those words may be heard by some as more than political posturing or pandering. It is heard as a legitimation of direct forms of justice, particularly by people who are mentally unstable.
Our national addiction to rage is reaching its inevitable end. But mobs are easier to incite than to control.
That is why the arrest of an armed man outside Justice Kavanaugh’s home shouldn’t surprise any of us. But it should be a sobering moment for all of us.
A jurist should not have to wonder whether he can both serve and survive on our Supreme Court.
Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University and a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors. Follow him on Twitter: @JonathanTurley