The family of those staff have been included in a competing bill that Democrats hoped to pass this week. But after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) issued an unusual public ultimatum Monday night, threatening to block passage of the House bill, Democrats changed course.
“The security issue is with the justices of the Supreme Court, not with some anonymous staff that nobody knows,” McConnell told reporters Monday in a rare interview in the Capitol hallway.
Hoyer said Tuesday that House Democrats backed down because the Senate bill was “the only thing that can pass, frankly, and we want to do that.”
The episode illustrated just how nasty and partisan nearly all High Court issues have become in US politics – especially after a draft notice leaked last month saying judges are preparing to quash the decision granting the right to abortion.
If the House approves the Senate bill on Tuesday as expected, it would go to President Biden for his signature.
The Senate passed its Supreme Court security bill on May 5, days after the abortion bill was leaked. But the House did not act on it, instead exploring a broader bill.
Matters came to a head last week after a 26-year-old gunman from California was arrested outside the home of Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh in Maryland. The man, Nicholas Roske, told police he came with the intention of murdering Kavanaugh because of the abortion opinion leak, but called 911 and turned himself in afterwards having spotted U.S. Marshals guarding Kavanaugh’s house.
As the incident illustrates, judges are already entitled to 24-hour security and court employees can be adequately protected. But federal law does not provide protection for immediate family members.
Roske’s arrest has energized politics around court security legislation on Capitol Hill, prompting McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to blast Democrats for failing to voted on the Senate bill.
McCarthy said in floor remarks Tuesday that passing the narrower bill would send “a clear message to radical leftists: You can’t bully Supreme Court justices.”
“He shouldn’t have taken a threat against Judge Kavanaugh to force action,” he said. “I’m glad he’s headed to the president’s office without any poison pills to delay him further.”
But Democratic leaders have expressed bewilderment at the GOP’s position, arguing that employees’ families should also be entitled to protection, at the discretion of the Supreme Court Marshal, its top security guard.
After the draft abortion advisory was leaked, the names of the lawyers some observers suspected of being the leakers circulated on Internet forums and some fringe news sites. Some Democrats have privately speculated that Republicans don’t want to protect staffers’ families, as many on the political right believe a liberal clerk leaked the draft abortion advisory, though that no evidence has emerged to support this allegation.
When asked on Monday why Republicans wanted to omit staff families from the bill, McConnell said House Democrats were taking “an unnecessary swipe to send a message of their pride that something has leaked to the Court. supreme”.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), who co-drafted the Senate bill with Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.), Said, “People know who the members of the Court are. supreme. They don’t know who the staff is.
“All we’re trying to do is give judges the same protection that members of Congress enjoy,” he added, saying Democrats were “playing with fire.”
Meanwhile, some see the GOP’s support for expanding judges’ family safety not just as a reaction to the leaked draft abortion advisory, but as a gesture of support for Ginni Thomas, l wife of Judge Clarence Thomas, whose role in spreading false information about the 2020 presidential election was recently the subject of publicity.
Still, the bill is expected to pass with overwhelming support Tuesday afternoon, including from Democrats.
Hoyer said Tuesday he was unsure why, despite a month of negotiations, Republicans opposed adding staff families to the security legislation. “But it is what it is,” he said, “and we’re going to bring the bill forward.”
Jacqueline Alemany contributed to this report.