At first, outgoing White House press secretary Jen Psaki seemed to realize she was entering a political minefield. Almost immediately after Thursday’s press briefing began, she was asked about President Biden’s thoughts on angry protests planned at Supreme Court justices’ homes and churches over the anticipated ruling overturning federal law legalizing abortion.
A reporter wanted to know Biden’s views on law enforcement authorities making plans to respond to violent protests in the wake of the leaked draft opinion rolling back two landmark decisions that guarantee the right to abortion nationwide.
The veteran White House communications adviser, who just hours earlier announced that Karine Jean-Pierre would replace her in a matter of days, provided an important lesson to her successor. She made sure the press corps knew that Biden understands and shares the anger that abortion advocates are feeling this week.
“For all those women, men, others who feel outraged, who feel scared, who feel concerned, he hears them, he shares that concern and that horror of what he saw in that draft opinion,” she said.
Only after establishing that Biden feels their pain did Psaki call for the protests to remain peaceful. “We should not be resorting to violence in any way, shape or form,” she said.
But the questions kept on coming. After Biden earlier in the week called Trump supporters the “most extreme political organization that’s existed” in recent U.S. history, Fox News’ Peter Doocy wanted to know what the president thought of one liberal activist group releasing a map of the homes of Supreme Court justices for a “walk-by Wednesday” demonstration.
Are those progressive activists “extreme?” Doocy asked.
“Peaceful protest? No. Peaceful protests are not extreme,” Psaki said flatly.
“I think the president’s view is there’s a lot of passion, a lot of fear, a lot of sadness from many, many people across the country about what they saw in that document,” she said.
Other conservative judicial activists are pointing to a federal law barring “pickets or parades” near a courthouse or a judge’s home with the “intent of interfering with, obstructing, or impeding administration of justice, or with the intent of influencing any judge, juror witness or court officer….”
When Doocy pressed Psaki on whether Biden cares whether protesters are planning to gather outside justices’ private residences, she tried to sidestep the question. “I don’t have an official U.S. government position on where people protest,” she said.
“Really?” Mike Davis, a former Gorsuch law clerk and the chief counsel for nominations on the Senate Judiciary Committee, tweeted. “How about Title 19, Section 1507 of the United States Code?”
Meanwhile, Congress is stepping in to provide greater protections for high court justices. Sens. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, and Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat close to Biden, have introduced the “Supreme Court Policy Parity Act” to provide greater law enforcement protections to the justices and their families. The bill would extend security protection to justices’ families, give greater arrest authority to the police assigned to the high court and make obstructing or impeding those police a crime.
Cornyn, during a Judiciary Committee meeting Thursday, called the leak of the Supreme Court draft opinion “an attack against the independence” of the U.S. court system, the U.S. government’s “crown jewel.”
“That’s the reason why we go through this laborious process of advice and consent for federal judges – to protect that independence,” he said. “And it’s not just an attack against the independence of the judiciary, this risks violence against members of the Supreme Court and their families.”
“We can’t stoop to the level of the mob – we have to stand up for what we believe to be right,” he concluded.
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