A week after an armed man was arrested near Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s home and subsequently charged with attempting to murder or kidnap a United States Judge, the House passed legislation that would extend police security to the families of Supreme Court justices.
The legislation, called the Supreme Court Police Parity Act of 2022, will now be sent to President Biden’s desk. It was introduced by Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) and passed the Senate in May, but faced hurdles in the House after Democrats sought to extend the protections to the families of other Court employees beyond sitting justices.
Ultimately, the bill passed the House by a margin of 396 to 27, with opposition coming from members of the Progressive Caucus and Democratic lawmakers from New Jersey who wanted privacy and security protections to also be granted to the families of federal court judges. (New Jersey is the home state of Judge Esther Salas, whose 20-year-old son Daniel was killed in 2020 by a gunman targeting the Judge.)
The back-and-forth over the bill reignited several long-running debates over Congress’s legislative priorities and the moral and political value of so-called “protest votes.” In a scathing editorial, the Wall Street Journal wrote, “House Democrats ignored the security bill for more than a month. Democrats claimed to want to broaden the bill to protect clerks and other court staff. But clerks don’t vote in cases and have no public profile. The real threat here is to the Justices.” The Journal also called the group of Democratic lawmakers, which included Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), members of the “dishonor roll.”
The objections of the Democrats who voted against the bill were less about substance than about tactics. By registering a protest vote against piecemeal legislation protecting only the families of Supreme Court justices, the thinking goes, lawmakers could raise awareness about the lack of action on other pressing issues like common-sense gun control.
“I wake up this morning and I start to hear murmurs that there is going to be an attempt to pass the Supreme Court Supplemental Protection Bill the day after gun safety legislation for schools and kids and people is stalled,” Rep. Ocasio-Cortez said in an Instagram story. “Oh, so we can pass protections for us — and here — easily, right? But we can’t pass protections for everyday people? I think not.”
Democratic leadership, too, had been holding out for a more comprehensive bill that would have protected other Court employees, like clerks, and their families. Republican Sen. Cornyn called that an unrealistic stalling tactic. “That could include round-the-clock security details for everyone from clerks to IT staff and their spouses, children, siblings and parents,” he said.
But House Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said that Corynyn and other Republicans were “in ignorance of the facts, or ignoring of the facts” if they thought that other Court employees did not face risks or deserve additional protections. “Nobody doesn’t want to protect the justices of the Supreme Court,” Hoyer added.
The episode was seized on by conservative media outlets painting Democrats as unsympathetic to the risks faced by Justice Kavanaugh and other conservative justices, particularly in the wake of the leaked Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade. But aside from the predictable partisan foodfight, the fervor over a seemingly uncontroversial bill speaks to an age-old question about political compromise: when does it make sense to take half a loaf vs. hold out for a full one? When is it worth it to register a protest vote?
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