A.B. Stoddard: Biden Must Condemn Violence Threat to Supreme Court

Last week 19 children and their two teachers were slaughtered in a Texas classroom, one week after 10 grocery store shoppers were gunned down in New York because of the color of their skin. We are drowning in violence that comes unexpectedly, but with depressing regularity.

Before the U.S. Supreme Court completes its term this month, it is expected to release a decision that will eviscerate Roe v. Wade, and there is already evidence that the response is likely to turn violent. Government officials have warned us that extremists on both sides of the charged abortion debate are threatening harm to the nine justices, the building itself, staff, and protestors. The decision is coming, the violence is expected.

President Biden, who visited both Buffalo and Uvalde to console local mourners and comfort the nation, has all the information he needs to speak out about this looming threat, and he must act now to quell the danger this moment is expected to produce.

At this point in the abortion wars, a majority of the threats are coming from extremists within Joe Biden’s political coalition who seek to act out against the conservative decision. That is all the more reason Biden cannot shirk his duty. This is not partisan. The president must step up now and warn that our nation is fragile and grieving and cannot abide any more violence, in any form, against the government or each other.

Two weeks ago Axios reported that a memo to law enforcement agencies from the Department of Homeland Security cited threats to the lives of the nine justices, as well as to the Supreme Court building which was recently encircled by a non-scalable, 8-foot fence following the leak of a draft opinion on abortion written by Justice Samuel Alito.

The intelligence, the DHS memo stated, found people “across a broad range of ideologies,” who are “attempting to justify and inspire attacks against abortion related targets and ideological opponents at lawful protests,” including calls to “burn down or storm” the court itself.

Soon after the leak of the draft opinion, protests occurred outside the homes of Alito and Justices John Roberts, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett, heightening concerns about the safety of the justices and their families, as well as their staff.

The White House was initially dismissive of any threats the protestors presented. But after criticism, the administration issued a statement by tweet, days later, that read: “@POTUS strongly believes in the Constitutional right to protest. But that should never include violence, threats, or vandalism. Judges perform an incredibly important function in our society, and they must be able to do their jobs without concern for their personal safety.”

By contrast, the Senate responded immediately to the protests by passing bipartisan security protections for the justices and their families. Sen. Dick Durbin, Democratic whip, said he is concerned that political violence is growing. “I take it very seriously when we talk about domestic terrorism. You know, a lot of that is politically inspired and most of it is politically inspired. And so whether it’s on the right or the left, we should make it clear that violence is never ever acceptable as an expression of your political feelings.”

The House did not announce plans to pass the Senate bill, though House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said protections should extend to Supreme Court clerks and staff who “have increasingly faced threats to their physical safety.”

Next week the House Select Committee on Jan. 6 will hold its opening hearing on the assault on the U.S. Capitol by a mob seeking to overturn the 2020 election at the incitement of then-President Donald Trump. An attack on the Supreme Court or its justices would be just as harmful to our country and another sign that democracy is failing.

The work the Homeland Security Department is doing to thwart any plots or threats is critical, but it should be accompanied by a message from the president about the nature of the threats, the resources directed at any potential harm, and the danger of political violence. Biden launched his campaign for the White House with a promise to restore the soul of the nation. He has made the preservation of democracy a priority of his first term, both at home and abroad.

Less than two weeks after the deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, Biden was sworn in, urging Americans to respect the rule of law and preserve democracy through unity. “The right to dissent peaceably, within the guardrails of our Republic, is perhaps our nation’s greatest strength,” he said in his inaugural address. “Yet hear me clearly: Disagreement must not lead to disunion.”

One year later Biden stood at the Capitol, speaking on the one-year anniversary of the attack there, and reiterated the same message.

“I will stand in this breach. I will defend this nation. And I will allow no one to place a dagger at the throat of our democracy,” Biden said. “We’re a nation of laws; of order, not chaos; of peace, not violence.”

Biden is launching a campaign against inflation, he is consumed by a months-long war in Ukraine with no end in sight, he’s frustrated by a baby formula shortage, and he is desperate to push bipartisan negotiations over gun laws to fruition. But this very real threat looms and could erupt soon.

The nation needs to hear from Biden in days, about the urgent need for Americans to protest within the confines of the law. He should ask all Americans to report any threat to the government or the justices to law enforcement.

This cannot be tweeted. Biden said he would defend this nation, and he knows we cannot sustain attacks on our government. No one else can do this. Biden must stand in this breach as he said he would.

A.B. Stoddard is associate editor of RealClearPolitics and a columnist. This piece originally ran at RealClearPolitics.

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