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Congress sends Biden a bill to boost Supreme Court security

House vote happens a week after an armed California man was arrested near Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh's house

Abortion rights activists protest outside the  Supreme Court on Monday as they wait for the court to hand down a decision on a case that could overturn Roe v. Wade.
Abortion rights activists protest outside the Supreme Court on Monday as they wait for the court to hand down a decision on a case that could overturn Roe v. Wade. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Congress sent a bill to President Joe Biden on Tuesday to bolster security for Supreme Court justices and their families, a response to protests outside the homes of justices after a leak of a draft opinion on abortion rights.

The House voted 396-27 to pass the bill after a month of back-and-forth with the Senate over how much to expand police protection related to Supreme Court employees. The bill, which the Senate passed by unanimous consent last month, would provide round-the-clock police protection for Supreme Court justices and their families, similar to officials in the executive and legislative branches.

Democrats argued that the bill did not go as far as their preferred package, which would also have included protections for Supreme Court staff. Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., called the final legislation “a straightforward bill” but also “the best we could get” in light of Republican objections.

The leaked draft opinion sparked a wave of protests outside justices’ homes, and a California man faces charges that he traveled to the Maryland home of Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh with an alleged plan to break in and kill him.

An FBI affidavit said the man was arrested last week with a pistol and told a detective he was upset about the recent leaked draft decision, as well as an upcoming decision on gun rights.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., blamed Democrats for the delay, intimating that they sided with protesters.

“These unnecessary delays put the safety of the justices and their families in danger,” McCarthy said. “By passing this bill as-is, we are sending a clear message to the left-wing radicals: You cannot intimidate the Supreme Court justices.”

The draft opinion, written by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., indicated there were enough votes for the high court to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that first established a constitutional right to an abortion. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. confirmed the authenticity of the draft in a statement last month.

The court is expected to issue its final opinion in the case before the end of the month. Since the leak of the draft opinion, police have surrounded the building with unscalable fencing, the kind that went up after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.

Police also placed concrete barricades blocking traffic near the court, as near-daily crowds of abortion-rights and anti-abortion protesters have clashed outside the building.

The Supreme Court has been closed to the public since the start of the coronavirus pandemic and resumed holding in-person oral arguments last fall.

Sens. Bill Hagerty, R-Tenn., and Mark Warner, D-Va., introduced a bill Tuesday to pay for the bolstered security. It would provide $10.3 million to the U.S. Marshals Service and $9.1 million to the Supreme Court for the current fiscal year.

On Monday, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre referenced Biden’s support for legislative action in response to a question about the thwarted attack on Kavanaugh.

“The Department of Justice, as it relates to Kavanaugh, has U.S. marshals providing support to the Supreme Court marshal. And the president supports legislation to fund increased security for court and judges,” Jean-Pierre said.

Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.

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