The question isn’t a legal one, as the First Amendment, subject to certain content-neutral time, place and manner restrictions, would permit it. But just because the law allows something does not mean it should be done. In the distant past, the idea of protesting at a government official’s home crossed a line. The norm was that homes and families were off limits as a matter of civility.
That’s long since changed, as reflected by the middle-of-the-night protests at the home of Portland mayor Ted Wheeler and New York City police commissioner Dermot Shea. No doubt the neighbors were thrilled.
And, indeed, the arguments in favor of going after these officials at home draws some greater validity from either their public positions or their direct responsibility for making political decisions that, at least in the minds of protesters, have a direct affect on their health and safety. This is certainly disputable, but that’s the argument.
While the idea that this is how one influences a justice seems to suggest that they missed middle school civics, let’s assume it will be a peaceful protest rather than devolve into violence, even though that does happen sometimes. And the question isn’t whether it’s protected under the First Amendment, which there is no reason to assume it isn’t. And they are trying to police their own for the sake of social justice, if not the justice’s sensitive ears.
The arguments for taking such protests to the homes of politicians, who are and should be subject to popular influence, are one thing, but to a justice?
I know this puts me at odds with a lot of people, but when you're a government official whose decisions impact people's lives, that impact isn't limited to the govt building your office is in.
If it affects people at their homes, don't complain when they protest outside yours 💁🏼♀️
— Ari Cohn (@AriCohn) September 7, 2021
I responded to Ari that homes and families should be off limits, not because the law wouldn’t allow it but because of the downward spiral of violence when norms of civility are abandoned.
Homes are off limits. Families are off limits. If your issue is with a public official, protest him in that capacity, not at his home with his family.
Ari replied that:
And when government officials are working remotely, people are just SOL? Either way, I’m not so squeamish. Laws don’t stop impacting me when I’m in my home with my family.
Given the reactions, it would appear that Ari’s view, that there should be no norm against going after someone at home, has become the dominant view, at least on the twitters, and my view that neither home nor family should be fair game for the outraged is out of touch.
It’s not that Justice Kavanaugh is likely to be intimidated by protesters at his home, and hopefully won’t react with antagonism toward the issue either, as the actions of the unduly passionate have nothing to do with the proper decision to be reached by the Supreme Court. And should this devolve into a “mostly” peaceful protest, the dynamics may well change even though there will almost certainly be a cohort that will indulge in sophist gymnastics to rationalize why doing a little damage to a justice’s house is totally appropriate given the damage he can do to America.
But is this where we want to be, where we should be? Should all judges now be targets of protest at home in an effort to intimidate them into ruling (or resigning?!?) as a mob demands? Will the next step be going after their children at school or their spouses at the grocery store? Are there any constraints, or are the ideas of certain places and situations being “off limits” now archaic in a nation where everything is an existential threat and must be stopped at all costs?
Does Ari’s argument, that bad law affects him at home and so why should the person making bad law be safe from protest at his home, have merit? Does it matter anymore if this has become a sufficiently acceptable course of action, that neither home nor family are off limits to the outraged mob?