An old question returns to Washington: Is it okay to protest in front of someone’s house?

On Wednesday, Fairfax County Board of Overseers Chairman Jeffrey C. McKay wrote a letter to Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin, who is under increasing pressure from conservatives to provide more protection for Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito. , who lives in Fairfax. “Your suggestion to establish a ‘perimeter’ for the purpose of ‘limiting unauthorized access by vehicles and pedestrians’ to neighborhoods around ministers’ homes is key to a checkpoint that federal courts have found to violate the Fourth Amendment. There are also obvious First Amendment concerns,” he wrote.

The county police, McKay wrote, “are equally committed to protecting the First Amendment guarantees given to those who come together to exercise their freedom of speech. These two efforts are not mutually exclusive.”

Youngkin’s concern over access to Alito amplifies a growing narrative on the right that Supreme Court justices are under siege after Politico reported the court is about to overturn. Roe vs Wade, in a draft decision authored by Alito. (It may also reflect an effort to shift the conversation about abortion, which most Americans believe should remain legal, to the tactics of pro-choice activists.)

Indeed, since the Politico scoop, mobs of pro-abortion protesters have marched into the homes of Supreme Court justices last week. Led by activist group ShutDownDC, hundreds of people stood outside the homes of judges Brett Kavanaugh, Samuel Alito and John Roberts, chanting slogans like “Alito is a coward” and “We’re not going back.”

Another pro-choice group, Ruth Sent Us, announced its plan to protest outside the homes of six Conservative judges, including Amy Coney Barrett, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch, on Wednesday, but a map of the judges’ addresses in Your site has been removed for violating the Google Maps Terms of Service.

As many conservatives have pointed out, there is indeed a federal law that prohibits “picketing or parades” at the residence of any judge who seeks to influence his work. Additionally, Virginia and Montgomery County have laws that prohibit protests in front of or adjacent to any private residence. But, as McKay’s letter states, there may be constitutional dimensions to such laws that can be a headache for localities. (Protesters have long targeted the homes of prominent Washington residents, inflating a giant condom over Senator Jesse Helms’ home in 1991, for example, or throwing a gay dance party outside Mike Pence’s home in beginning of the Trump administration.) In cases in the past where protesters have been arrested or a target of protest has filed a complaint against protesters, police in this region tend to ward off protesters or simply stand guard rather than making mass arrests.

Hope Neyer, a member of ShutDownDC’s communications team, says the group started going to judges’ homes after the Supreme Court police force installed tall fences outside the Supreme Court. In the absence of a clear venue to plead his case outside the courtroom, says Neyer, the protests at home are an attempt to make judges and members of the press listen to their concerns. “If they don’t hear us in court,” says Neyer, “then they’ll have to hear us at their house.”

Mark Lance, co-founder of the Justice and Peace Studies program at Georgetown University, largely agrees. “Here is a man who is going to take away the 50-year-old rights to privacy and autonomy of every pregnant person in America,” he says of Alito. “It’s ironic to say that your property and your privacy are sacrosanct when the Supreme Court is about to take away the country’s basic autonomy rights.”

But this tactic, says Cathy Lisa Schneider, a professor at American University who studies social movements and urban politics, could derail the conversation activists hope to spark. “Standing in front of judges’ houses and harassing them doesn’t help your overall fight, because now that’s what we’re talking about,” she says. Instead, she advises, activists should try to elect pro-abortion rights officials at all levels and remember that Supreme Court justices are not the only actors in restricting access to abortion. “There is significant resistance to what the court is doing right now,” says Lance. “But it has to be a comprehensive approach.”

This argument does not move Neyer. In fact, she says, protests in judges’ homes can help unite a larger post-war movement.roe world, if the Supreme Court actually overturns the precedent at the end of its term. “We’re not running out of conservative judges anytime soon, and it doesn’t end when the decision comes out,” she says. “But now is the time to build the communities that will keep us safe before, during and after.”

Damare Baker

assistant editor

Before becoming an assistant editor, Damare Baker started as an editor at the Washingtonian. She has written for Voice of America and The Hill. She graduated from Georgetown University, where she studied international relations, Korean and journalism.

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