Republicans warn of risks to Supreme Court justices as Dems delay vote on security bill

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., holds her weekly press conference at the U.S. Capitol on August 25, 2021, in Washington, D.C. |

The U.S. House of Representatives will not vote until next week on legislation that would expand security to the family and staff of U.S. Supreme Court justices. Republicans are critical of the delay after the recent attempted murder of Justice Brett Kavanaugh this week.

Last month, the U.S. Senate unanimously approved The Supreme Court Police Parity Act, which is still awaiting a vote in the House. The bill provides police protection to the families of the nine justices and other officers of the court if the "Marshal determines such protection is necessary."

Although some were hoping for a vote on the bill Thursday, House Democrats want to expand that jurisdiction to include not only the justices' family members but also their staff. 

The bill has received a renewed push for passage following the Wednesday arrest of California resident Nicholas John Roske outside Kavanaugh's home in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

Police detained Roske for saying he wanted to kill the justice. Roske expressed anger over the possible overturning of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

Roske, who reportedly abandoned his plan and turned himself over to authorities, was found with multiple weapons, including a gun, knife and pepper spray. He is currently being charged with the attempted murder of a Supreme Court justice. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., informed reporters during a Thursday press conference about the plan for the House to vote on the bill next week when Congress returns to Washington. 

"We're working together on the bill that the Senate will be able to approve of," Pelosi said. "We can pass whatever we want to. We want it to be able to pass the Senate."

The House Speaker insisted that the delay would not endanger the justices' safety, reminding reporters that U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland provided armed security to all of the justices' homes last month.

"The justices are protected. This issue is not about the justices. It's about staff and the rest," she added. "There will be a bill. But nobody is in danger over the weekend because of our not having a bill." 

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said during an impassioned speech on the House Floor Thursday that he told House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., that morning that every Republican would support the measure. McCarthy voiced disagreement with the House's decision to adjourn before voting on the bill, claiming it "could be on the president's desk right now."

"House Democrats are leaving. Today, they want to leave for a long weekend," McCarthy said.

"How many times do they have to be threatened? How many people have to be arrested with a gun outside their home?" he asked. "What would have happened had he not called 911. He didn't just have a gun. He had zip ties. But somehow, you want to leave."

Hoyer maintained on Wednesday that both sides are "close" and that he's been in talks this week to seal an agreement. 

"I want to see the i's dotted and the t's crossed. But it was a very positive discussion," he said, according to The Hill. "So, if I'm correct, I think we'll be able to move relatively soon."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell criticized Democrats' inaction on the bill.  

“House Democrats have spent weeks blocking, blocking the measure … related to security for Supreme Court justices. The House Democrats have refused to take it up,” McConnell said Wednesday.

“House Democrats must pass this bill and they need to do it today. No more fiddling around with this. They need to pass it. They need to stop their multi-week blockade against the Supreme Court security bill and pass it before the sun sets today."

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said in a statement that Wednesday's arrest shows that "threats to the Justices’ lives are horrifyingly real."

"[I]t’s unconscionable for House Democrats to leave their families without police protection for even one more day,” Cornyn said. “Speaker Pelosi must keep the House in session until they pass my bill. Every day they don’t the threat to the Justices grows, the potential for tragedy becomes more likely, and House Democrats achieve a new apex of political dysfunction.”

The push to expand Supreme Court justices' federal protections gained prominence after Politico published a draft opinion in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health, which indicated that five of the court's conservative justices were primed to overturn Roev. Wade. The 1973 decision legalized abortion nationwide. The court is considering whether to uphold Mississippi's 15-week abortion ban, with a final ruling expected later this month.

Conservative news outlet National Review criticized the coverage of the assassination attempt against Kavanaugh, noting that USA Today and the Politico Playbook did not appear to cover the news item.

After highlighting how The New York Times placed the news on page 20, the publication also took issue with the Times' headline, "Man With Pistol, Crowbar And Zip Ties Is Arrested Near Kavanaugh's Home." National Review expressed concern that the headline did not acknowledge Roske's intention to murder the justice.

Critics of the Democratic Party, including Fox News contributor and former U.S. Attorney Andrew McCarthy linked Roske's actions to comments Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., made about Kavanaugh and Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch while speaking at an abortion activist rally in 2020.

"I want to tell you, Gorsuch, I want to tell you, Kavanaugh, you have released the whirlwind and you will pay the price," Schumer warned at the time. "You won't know what hit you if you go forward with these awful decisions."

About a month before the assassination attempt against Kavanaugh, the abortion activist group Ruth Sent Us organized protests outside the homes of the six Republican-appointed Supreme Court justices and posted the approximate locations of their residences on its website.

Following Roske's arrest, the group insisted via its Twitter account that it was "committed to non-violence" as it announced further protests at the justices' homes.

In preparation for any violence should the court overturn Roe, a security fence was constructed outside the Supreme Court building last month.

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