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Virginia governor, county leaders spar over abortion protests outside justices' homes

Posted at 2:56 PM, May 12, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-12 18:16:14-04

FALLS CHURCH, Va. — Fairfax County officials have rebuffed a request from Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin to establish a security perimeter around the neighborhoods of U.S. Supreme Court justices living in the county after some have faced protests outside their homes.

Youngkin, a Republican, made the request Wednesday in a letter to the county board of supervisors. “I fundamentally believe such demonstrations and picketing should not be allowed at the Justice's (sic) homes as they are meant to intimidate and influence the Justices,” he wrote.

Three Supreme Court justices - Samuel Alito, Amy Coney Barrett and Clarence Thomas - live in the county. Justices living in and outside the county have been confronted with protests outside their homes since a draft of Alito's opinion that would overturn the Roe v. Wade abortion-rights decision was leaked.

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said Youngkin's request for a security perimeter is unnecessary and improper. He said establishing a perimeter would amount to creating an unconstitutional neighborhood “checkpoint” that would infringe on First Amendment protest rights. He also noted that protests that have occurred outside Alito's home in the Fort Hunt neighborhood have been peaceful.

“We will enforce laws that serve to protect persons and property,” McKay wrote. “Our officers are equally committed to protecting the First Amendment guarantees afforded to those who gather to exercise their freedom of speech.”

Fairfax County Police, for their part, said through a spokeswoman that they’re providing extra staffing in response to reports of planned protests “to maintain the safety and security of the public, while ensuring First Amendment rights are protected.”

Youngkin also joined Maryland GOP Gov. Larry Hogan in calling on federal law enforcement entities to “take the lead and provide sustained resources” to protect the justices and ensure the neighborhoods are secure in the weeks and months ahead.

In a letter addressed to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, the governors called on the Department of Justice to enforce a federal law that prohibits “pickets or parades” with the intent to influence a judge.

Separately, 25 Republican attorneys general wrote to Garland, citing the same law and urging him to prevent protesters "from attempting to intimidate” the justices.

Justice Department spokesman Anthony Coley said in a statement Wednesday that Garland continues to be briefed on security matters related to the Supreme Court and justices. He noted that Garland had directed the U.S. Marshals Service to help support the Marshal of the Supreme Court and Supreme Court Police.

When asked to comment on the issue, Attorney General Jason Miyares' (R - Virginia) office provided the following statement:

Section 18.2-419 of the Code of Virginia states that protesting in front of an individual’s private residence is a class 3 misdemeanor. Under Virginia law, local Commonwealth’s Attorneys are responsible for prosecuting violations of this statute. Attorney General Miyares urges every Commonwealth’s Attorney to put their personal politics aside and enforce the law.