What’s the Point of Going to Brett Kavanaugh’s House?
Demonstrators have largely given up on changing the Supreme Court justices’ minds. But they’re still showing up.
CHEVY CHASE, Md.—A few of Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s neighbors were visibly annoyed last night as a dozen abortion-rights protesters marched down their tree-lined street, blaring music and chanting, “We are not your incubators!” A middle-aged couple in jogging suits scoffed and yanked their goldendoodle to the other side of the road. One woman driving an SUV pulled up dangerously close to a demonstrator and laid on the horn. But other neighbors were supportive—even grateful. At least three people poked their heads out from behind doors or garden gates to thank the passing protesters for their dedication to the cause.
It’s impossible to know what Kavanaugh was thinking while the gaggle of mostly women paced in front of his lush suburban lawn, just across the border from D.C. Maybe he wasn’t even home, or maybe, as some marchers wondered aloud, he was watching them from a small gap in the blinds upstairs. Ultimately, the demonstrators didn’t care all that much how the second-newest Supreme Court justice felt about their presence. They had given up on persuasion, they said. Instead, they viewed their protest as a physical reminder for the justices of the human cost of their decision.
“It’s imperative that they know that we exist,” Karen Irwin, a reproductive-rights activist who splits her time between D.C. and New York, told me. “Each of us represents scores of other humans that can’t be here or are afraid to be here.”
Ever since the leak last week of a draft Supreme Court opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade, local abortion-rights groups have sought to reimagine the “zone of privacy”—gathering to protest not just outside the Court building itself, but at the homes of all six Republican-appointed justices in Maryland and Virginia. The organizers of last night’s march, the progressive group Ruth Sent Us, had already been here last weekend. Other activists and a few of Kavanaugh’s neighbors have been organizing demonstrations, too. Republicans and some Democrats have criticized the decision to picket on the justices’ doorsteps, calling it intimidation and suggesting that it contributes to the politicization of the Court. Protests like this might actually be illegal, some experts say, and in a joint letter released last night, the Republican governors of Maryland and Virginia asked Attorney General Merrick Garland to crack down on the marches. (“Fuck Larry Hogan!” Irwin yelled when she heard. Kavanaugh “is afraid of people peacefully protesting? Who’s the snowflake now?”)
Yet for all the anger and activism of the past week, most of the protesters seemed to recognize the futility of their actions. Earlier in the day, Senate Democrats had failed to pass a bill to codify a nationwide right to abortion into law. Soon, the Court will issue its official decision on Roe, and a few weeks later, abortion will likely be banned or severely restricted in half of U.S. states. The unprecedented release of the draft Court decision last week had created an unusual opportunity for activists on both sides of the abortion debate: a small window of time to influence the decision. It seems likely that whoever leaked the draft wanted to give outsiders just such a chance to intervene, either to cement the justices’ decision or try to sway a few of them. So far, though, according to Politico, no justices have changed their minds.
Last night’s protest was smaller than the previous ones. The marchers were accompanied by at least five reporters and escorted by what seemed like the entire Montgomery County Police Department. As they marched up Brookville Road, past sweet-smelling honeysuckle bushes and brick houses with imposing columns, Irwin pushed a cart with speakers playing Tracy Chapman’s “Talkin’ Bout a Revolution.” The group wore pink pussy hats and leather jackets and carried homemade cardboard signs that said ABORT THE COURT. After turning down a side street to chant outside Kavanaugh’s house, they walked a few blocks over to Chief Justice John Roberts’s, where they did more call-and-response, and argued over whether it would be more gender inclusive to use the term uterus or vagina. (Other Ruth Sent Us marchers visited the homes of the rest of the conservative justices.) One of Roberts’s neighbors, who asked not to be quoted or named, came outside to show her toddler what a protest looked like. She didn’t mind that marches down her street were becoming a semi-regular occurrence. It’s their constitutional right, she said.
The demonstration, which lasted for roughly an hour, was rowdy enough. Still, the whole thing felt a little desperate, like a last-resort move for people without any other options. There really aren’t many other options, at least not immediately. When I asked Nadine Seiler, a Maryland resident who helped organize the march, about the next steps for abortion-rights advocates, she was angry but resigned. “We will just have to overcome it by voting them out,” she said, referring to Republican lawmakers. “The problem for me is I know that this is not just abortion rights.” She mentioned a proposed Louisiana law that would allow murder charges to be made against people who obtain abortions or use certain forms of contraception. “They went warp-speed to birth control,” Seiler said. “They want to create felons of women.”
For the left, the Supreme Court’s forthcoming decision will likely be just the first drop in a cascade of outrage-inducing rulings to come from the Court’s 6–3 conservative majority. Some predict that overturning Roe will have implications for other important precedents, too, like Obergefell v. Hodges, which made same-sex marriage legal nationwide. Last night’s protesters vowed that they’ll hit the streets again before that happens. They seem to know already that their presence likely won’t change any minds. Still, they’ll keep coming back, if only to prove they exist.