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This story was updated at 5:20 p.m. on July 2, 2022, to include comments from County Executive Marc Elrich. It was updated again at 5:45 p.m. on July 5, 2022 to clarify that the Supreme Court voted differently on Mississippi’s abortion ban than on whether to overturn Roe v. Wade

The marshal of the U.S. Supreme Court this week released letters to Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan asking them to enforce state and county laws on the books that regulate protests in front of people’s homes.

Friday’s letter comes a week after the high court on June 24 upheld a 15-week abortion ban in Mississippi by a 6 to 3 vote and overturned Roe v. Wade by a 5 to 4 vote, saying there is no constitutional right to abortion. Protests had begun to build in front of justices’ homes for several weeks before the overturning of Roe, due to the leak of a draft opinion to Politico signaling the likely overturn of the nearly 50-year-old landmark court case.

In Montgomery County, multiple protests have occurred in front of Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s Chevy Chase home. Kavanaugh, Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch all live in Montgomery County.

Last month, a 26-year-old California man was charged with attempted murder after authorities say he went to Kavanaugh’s home with the intent to kill him.

On Saturday, Elrich responded in a statement, criticizing the marshal for airing the security concern to media before contacting him directly. Hogan’s office also responded in a statement, saying the state statute cited has been questioned by the Maryland Attorney General’s Office and accusing the Department of Justice of declining to enforce a federal statute that prohibits picketing at judges’ homes.

In the letter to Elrich, Marshal of the Court Gail A. Curley wrote that the court asked the Montgomery County Police Department in May, following protests, to enforce a county ordinance stating that a “person or group of persons must not picket in front of or adjacent to any private residence.” The ordinance allows a group to march in a residential area if they don’t stop in front of a private residence, the letter notes. A violation of the ordinance can be either a civil or criminal offense, carrying either a $100 civil fine or a $200 criminal fine with 30 days in jail.

Curley also referred to a state law saying that a person “may not intentionally assemble with another in a manner that disrupts a person’s right to tranquility in the person’s home.” The state law says that a violator is subject to a $100 fine and up to 90 days in prison.

“For weeks on end, large groups of protesters chanting slogans, using bullhorns and banging drums have picketed in front of justices’ homes in Montgomery County,” Curley wrote.

Curley wrote that last week there was one protest with 75 people who “loudly picketed” in front of a justice’s home in Montgomery County for at least 20 minutes at night. The crowd then went to another justice’s home and picketed for 30 minutes as the crowd grew to 100, before going back to the first justice’s home and protesting for another 20 minutes, she wrote. She did not identify either of the justices by name whose homes the group went to.

“This is exactly the kind of conduct that the Maryland and Montgomery County laws prohibit,” she wrote.

Elrich, in a statement on Saturday, criticized the court’s marshal for distributing the letter to the media before communicating with him directly, and wrote that his staff has no record of having received it.

“It is very troubling that the court would take this approach,” he wrote. “If the marshal is concerned about security, then she and her staff should communicate directly with our police chief, myself, and my staff rather than having a letter released to the press.”

Elrich noted in his statement that US Marshals are on duty outside the justices’ homes and “if they have security concerns, they should let us know what they are.”

“This public discussion regarding safety and security of Supreme Court members is counterproductive, and using the media only further draws attention to the security of the Justices’ homes and neighborhoods.”

Elrich wrote that he has spoken with County Police Chief Marcus Jones, and the chief is not aware of requests for additional security assistance.

“Quite frankly, discussing security concerns publicly is irresponsible and disappointing behavior.”

The county is following the law in a way that both ensures security and respects the First Amendment rights of the protestors, Elrich wrote.

“It is noteworthy that the primary responsibility for the safety of the Supreme Court justices and their families lies with the federal government,” he wrote. “Under federal laws, the marshals can arrest an individual who is in violation of a federal law.”

In his statement, Elrich invited Curley to discuss her concerns with him directly by phone or in a meeting after he reviews her letter.

The letter to Hogan uses similar language but instead calls on the governor to ensure that Maryland State Police enforce state and county laws. The letter to Hogan also references a previous joint statement from May 11 by Hogan and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, in which the governors state that they were “deeply concerned” about the protests in front of justices’ homes.

Hogan’s spokesman Mike Ricci released a statement Saturday, saying “had the marshal taken time to explore the matter, she would have learned that the constitutionality of the statute cited in her letter has been questioned by the Maryland Attorney General’s Office.”

The statement also accused the Department of Justice of declining to enforce a federal statute that prohibits picketing at judges homes.

“Amid all this our state and local law enforcement agencies have been on the front lines every day protecting these communities,” he wrote. “In light of the continued refusal by multiple federal entities to act, the governor has directed Maryland State Police to further review enforcement options that respect the First Amendment and the Constitution.”

While the protests have been occurring, Montgomery County police said they follow their own policy on protest regulations. Jones said on CNN last month that generally speaking, protesters can gather in neighborhoods but may not block traffic and may not remain stationary in front of a home while protesting.

According to Montgomery County’s policies on protests, a person who violates the county’s protest laws could be fined from $50 to $1,000 depending on whether it’s a first-time or a repeat offense. Additionally, the violation could be considered either a civil penalty or a criminal penalty depending on the severity of the offense. The maximum jail sentence for a criminal violation is six months.

Montgomery County police spokeswoman Shiera Goff on Saturday referred a reporter’s questions to Elrich’s office.

Prior to the protests in front of Kavanaugh’s house, there have been other protests in front of local officials’ homes in Montgomery County. One from May 2020 featured 40 members of the county government union, MCGEO Local 1994, protesting in front of County Council Member Hans Riemer’s home in Takoma Park over the rejection of pay raises for some employees.

Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com

Dan Schere

Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com.