RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Governor Glenn Youngkin is urging federal law enforcement to crack down on protesters surrounding the U.S. Supreme Court and the private homes of Justices in response to a leaked draft majority opinion in support of reversing nationwide abortion rights.
In a joint letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland on Wednesday, Governor Youngkin and Maryland Governor Larry Hogan expressed deep concern with reports of threatening language from protesters. They said the demonstrations are illegal under federal law.
Speaking with reporters on Thursday, Youngkin said, “The federal statute is incredibly clear. It’s punishable with up to a year in prison and Governor Hogan and I have clearly asked the Attorney General to do his job and enforce it.”
Youngkin and Hogan cite a federal law that prohibits protests in or near a court building or at a judge’s residence with the intent of influencing their decision-making. The Governors argue that the law is applicable since protesters are reacting to a draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade and not a final ruling.
“Common sense here fully dictates that the ability to, in fact, demonstrate and express your views is protected under the First Amendment. It’s just not appropriate, nor is it legal, to do it at the residence of a justice,” Youngkin said.
Separate from the issue of residential protests, Youngkin was asked to clarify if protests outside the U.S. Supreme Court should be allowed during deliberations on the case that could overturn Roe v. Wade.
“The statute is clear that, in fact, there should not be protesting to try to influence a judge outside their residence and it actually says in the statute outside the courthouse as well,” Youngkin said. “When there is a final decision, then protests in front of the Supreme Court building are fully expected.”
Asked if he is also calling for the enforcement of a Virginia state law, which prohibits picketing in private residential areas in a manner that disturbs tranquility, Youngkin said, “It is punishable with a fine and, in all candor, it’s a weak statute.”
Governors Hogan and Youngkin said federal law enforcement must take the lead to provide sustained resources and protect Justices’ from harm. They said they are willing to provide additional state resources if the need for increased security measures becomes imminent.
On Wednesday, Youngkin also asked the Fairfax County Police Department to expand their security perimeter around the homes of three Justices, including limiting access for unauthorized vehicles and pedestrians. Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said Youngkin’s request is unnecessary and would infringe on First Amendment protest rights.
Senator Barbara Favola, a Democrat who represents parts of Fairfax, doesn’t support enforcement actions against protesters who are peacefully demonstrating, as long as they are in public streets and honoring permitting requirements.
“Prison time is not justifiable for this action,” Favola said. “We have to allow them to speak their mind in a peaceful way.”
Meanwhile, Youngkin has faced criticism from some conservatives who argue he isn’t doing enough to enforce the law against residential picketing at the state level, rather than looking to local or federal authorities to step in.
“I think this is just a misunderstanding of our operating procedures,” Youngkin said. “Should things escalate, state police may in fact have to move into a primary role but right now we’re supporting Fairfax County in that role.”
Youngkin said on Thursday that he has yet to hear back from Attorney General Garland.
In a statement, Department of Justice Spokesperson Anthony Coley said, “Attorney General Garland continues to be briefed on security matters related to the Supreme Court and Supreme Court Justices. The Attorney General directed the U.S. Marshals Service to help ensure the Justices’ safety by providing additional support to the Marshal of the Supreme Court and Supreme Court Police.”
Jamie Lockhart, Executive Director at Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia, said in a statement that abortion rights supporters shouldn’t be distracted by Youngkin’s comments. She declined to do an interview.
“Planned Parenthood knows full well what it’s like to have protestors outside of our doors. What anti-abortion politicians want to focus on is the leaked brief and the protests – while ignoring the devastating impact Roe being overturned will have on millions across the country,” Lockhart said.
Gianni Snidle, a spokesperson for the Democratic Party of Virginia, said in a statement that there is no place for violence in any protests but criticized Youngkin’s focus.
“If Governor Youngkin is so concerned with upholding the law and our freedoms, then he should direct his attention to protecting the freedom of choice for women in Virginia and across the country,” Snidle said.