By Ariane de Vogue and Veronica Stracqualursi, CNN
The marshal of the Supreme Court has asked Maryland and Virginia officials to direct law enforcement to enforce state and county laws prohibiting picketing outside the homes of Supreme Court justices, according to letters obtained by CNN.
Col. Gail A Curley sent letters to Maryland Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, Virginia Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin, Democrat Marc Elrich, the county executive of Montgomery County, and Democrat Jeffrey McKay, Fairfax County board of supervisors’ chairman.
The letters, released by a court spokesperson on Saturday to reporters and sent as the court ended a blockbuster term which saw historic decisions on guns, abortion and climate, refer to protests that have taken place “for weeks on end.” Curley called in the letters for the officials to direct police to enforce the laws.
According to Curley, “large groups of protesters” have “picketed” justices’ homes in Maryland and Virginia, “chanting slogans, using bullhorns, and banging drums.”
“You recently stated that you were ‘deeply concerned’ that ‘hundreds of demonstrators have recently chosen to picket Supreme Court Justices at their homes in … Maryland,'” the letter to Hogan by Curley said. “Since then, protest activity at the Justices’ homes, as well as threatening activity, has only increased.”
In her letters to Maryland officials, Curley cited the June arrest near Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s home in the state of a man who was later charged by the Justice Department with attempting or threatening to kidnap or murder a US judge. The man had been armed, according to the FBI. Several Supreme Court justices live in Maryland and Virginia.
Elrich said in a statement Saturday his office had not received the letter and only learned about it in news reports. Elrich called the public release of the letter “troubling,” saying public discussion of security matters “is counterproductive, and using the media only further draws attention to the security of the Justices’ homes and neighborhoods.”
Elrich continued, “Quite frankly, discussing security concerns publicly is irresponsible and disappointing behavior.”
CNN reached out to the Supreme Court for comment on that.
Michael Ricci, the spokesperson for Hogan, responded in a statement to the letter, saying the governor would direct the Maryland State Police to “further review enforcement options,” while noting Maryland’s Attorney General has questioned the laws’ constitutionality. Ricci also lamented the perceived lack of federal help in enforcing the laws. US Marshals have assisted in provided security at justice’s homes.
Youngkin’s spokesperson Christian Martinez said in a statement the governor agrees with the need to enforce anti-picketing laws in front of the home’s of Supreme Court justices but pinned the lack of enforcement on local officials.
Youngkin “welcomes the Marshal of the Supreme Court’s request for Fairfax County to enforce state law as they are the primary enforcement authority for the state statute,” Martinez said.
Martinez added Youngkin is calling on Attorney General Merrick Garland to enforce any federal laws on the matter. CNN is reaching out to the US Department of Justice for comment on that.
McKay confirmed his office received the letter and said in a statement the county’s “stance on this issue is unchanged.”
McKay said the Virginia law cited in the letter “is a likely violation of the First Amendment, and a previous court case refused to enforce it. As long as individuals are assembling on public property and not blocking access to private residences, they are permitted to be there.”
The Fairfax County Police Department also put out a statement saying it is “responsible for maintaining public safety throughout the county, in “protecting the constitutional rights of our community members, including First Amendment protected speech and the right to peacefully assemble.”
Protests over abortion rights
Protests began in May when a draft majority opinion overturning the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision was leaked and published by Politico, and armed guards were sent to provide 24-hour protection at the justices’ homes. When the high court ended Roe on June 24 — holding there was no longer a federal constitutional right to an abortion — the protests continued.
Following the leak of the draft opinion in May, the Department of Homeland Security issued a memo warning law enforcement there are potential threats to Supreme Court members and the court’s police have noticed a major uptick in social media threats of violence, with some prompting investigation.
Facing pressure from Republicans in Congress, Garland said last month the Justice Department was taking the threats against Supreme Court justices “extraordinarily seriously.”
Garland said at the time he met with the marshal of the Supreme Court, the FBI and others “to be sure that we were assessing all possible threats and providing all resources available.”
The Justice Department had declined to comment at the time on calls to enforce a federal law which essentially bans protesting outside a judge’s residence for the purpose of influencing them. The federal law is rarely enforced and broadly written.
President Joe Biden signed legislation last month to extend security protection for justices’ immediate family members.
Following the arrest near Kavanaugh’s house, Hogan said in a statement there had been “heightened security” at the homes of justices since May.
“It is vital to our constitutional system that the justices be able to carry out their duties without fear of violence against them and their families,” Hogan said. “We will continue to partner with both federal and local law enforcement officials to help ensure these residential areas are secure.”
Maryland law prohibits a person from “intentionally assembl(ing) with another in a manner that disrupts a person’s right to tranquility in the person’s home.”
Under a Montgomery County ordinance, an individual or group “must not picket in front of or adjacent to any private residence” but a group can be allowed to march in a residential area “without stopping at any particular private residence.” Picketing is defined as “to post a person or persons at a particular place to convey a message.”
In an interview last month, Marcus Jones, the chief of police in Montgomery County, told CNN there are “state and local laws that pertain to protests.”
“They are allowed to be in the neighborhoods, but they must continuously walk, they cannot stand specifically in front of a neighborhood with signs and bullhorns and yelling at the residents,” Jones said about the rules for protesters. “They must not block sidewalks, and they must not block the streets.”
“If they violate any of those … particular regulations, then we will arrest them,” he added.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misspelled Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich’s first name.
This story and headline have been updated with additional reporting.
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CNN’s Sonnet Swire contributed to this report.