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Md. Republicans urge more police protection for Supreme Court justices

Maryland House Republican leaders are calling for the state to ramp up enforcement efforts around the homes of Supreme Court justices who live in Maryland.

The request from lawmakers comes a day after the Montgomery County Police Department warned protesters of potential arrests. The letter to Gov. Larry Hogan cited increased protests and concerns about harassment and threats in the wake of a number of controversial decisions.

“As you are aware, recent decisions by the Supreme Court have sparked protests around the county, including at the homes of the Justices themselves,” according to a letter from the Republican Caucus of the Maryland House of Delegates. “Members of the public certainly have the First Amendment right to protest, peacefully assemble, and redress grievances with their government. However, activities at the homes of Justices took a frightening turn when an individual flew from California to Maryland and showed up at the home of Justice (Brett) Kavanaugh with a plan, and the tools, to assassinate him.”

The Republicans said the state has “a moral obligation” to protect justices who live in Maryland while waiting for the federal government to provide more security.

This is not the first call for enforcement action outside the justices’ homes.

Two weeks ago, Marshal of the Court Gail Curley asked Hogan and the governor of Virginia to stop the protests.

The protests and calls for enforcement spotlight the conflict between First Amendment rights and protection of public officials.

Maryland had a law that prohibited targeted protesting outside a private home. The Court of Appeals struck down the law in 1977 saying the state could regulate protests but not prohibit them.

Similarly, a 1950 federal law makes it illegal to picket outside a courthouse or judge’s home “with the intent of interfering with, obstructing, or impeding the administration of justice, or with the intent of influencing any judge.” Legal scholars question whether the law is a blanket prohibition against protests arguing potential constitutional violations.

Conservative Supreme Court justices living in Maryland and other states have been the focus of protests since the leak of a draft opinion in an abortion case. The court later struck down the seminal Roe v. Wade decision in June, drawing more protests.

In June, Nicholas John Roske, 26, of Simi Valley, California, was arrested and charged with attempting or threatening to kidnap Kavanaugh. Roske told investigators he was upset about the leaked draft opinion, according to federal court records.

“It is incredibly fortunate that with the quick actions of law enforcement, this would-be assassin was captured before he could carry out his plan,” House Republicans wrote in their letter to Hogan. “But this incident also underscores the dangers the Justices are facing at this time in our history. This is not only true for Supreme Court Justices, as threats to members of the judiciary across the nation have increased significantly over the last several years. According to the U.S. Marshals Service, U.S. federal judges were the target of more than 4,500 threats and inappropriate communications in 2021, and they say the risk is “growing exponentially.”

Michael Ricci, a Hogan spokesman, said he had not seen the letter from House Republicans until a reporter provided a copy. He said he hoped those lawmakers were aware of reports of enforcement efforts by Montgomery County Police.  He did not respond to a request for an update on the review of Maryland State Police’s security activities.

Earlier this month, in response to a letter from the head of security for the Supreme Court, Ricci said federal officials should enforce existing federal law which he called “clear and unambiguous.”

In that same response, Ricci said there were concerns about the constitutionality of Maryland law. He said the governor had directed the Maryland State Police to review enforcement options that don’t run afoul of the Constitution.

On Thursday, officials with the Montgomery County Police issued a warning to protesters, saying they could be arrested.

“Please note: MCPD supports the First Amendment right to protest, however anyone violating the disorderly conduct statute, may be subject to arrest. Applicable laws regarding protests in Montgomery County have been added to the MCPD website,” according to the message on the department’s official Twitter page.