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House passes bill to bolster security for Supreme Court justices

House passes bill to bolster Supreme Court security
House passes bill to bolster Supreme Court security 00:23

Washington — By a wide bipartisan margin, the House approved on a bill on Tuesday to bolster security for Supreme Court justices and their families, a move that took on added urgency after a California man allegedly armed with a knife and handgun was arrested last week outside the Maryland house of Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

The bill passed the House by a vote of 396 to 27, and now heads to President Biden's desk for his signature. Crafted by Sens. John Cornyn, a Republican of Texas, and Chris Coons, a Democrat from Delaware, the Senate passed the measure last month.

All 27 votes against the bill came from Democrats, including several prominent progressives. All but two Democrats from New Jersey voted against passage, arguing it should extend protection to federal judges as a whole. The family of a federal judge in New Jersey was targeted by a gunman in a deadly attack at their home in 2020.

The proposal, called the Supreme Court Police Parity Act, grants the marshal of the Supreme Court and Supreme Court police the authority to protect the justices' family members or any officer of the court if protection is deemed necessary.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Monday that Mr. Biden supports legislation to fund increased security for the Supreme Court and its members, and said the administration takes "very seriously" threats and intimidation against judges. Andrew Bates, a White House spokesman, said Mr. Biden "looks forward to signing" the security bill into law.

"As the president has consistently made clear, public officials — including judges — must be able to fulfill their duties without concern for their personal safety or that of their families. Any violence, threats of violence, or attempts to intimidate justices are untenable and have no place in our society," he said in a statement. "That's why the Biden administration has devoted additional resources, including U.S. Marshals, toward the protection of justices. It's also why we denounced the threat to Justice Kavanaugh in the strongest terms and why the president has supported legislation such as this for weeks."

Senate Republicans implored House Speaker Nancy Pelosi not to wait any longer before bringing the measure to the House floor for a vote in the wake of the incident outside Kavanaugh's house last week.

House Democrats sought to expand the measure to add protections for Supreme Court clerks, staff and their families. But Cornyn said the plan to amend the legislation made a "mockery" of his and Coons' efforts, and accused House Democratic leaders of mounting a "transparent attempt to stall the legislation."

"The line between legitimate public discourse and acts of violence has been crossed, and House Democrats cannot continue to turn a blind eye," he said. "We don't have time to spare when it comes to protecting the members of the court and their families."

But House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer accused Cornyn and Senate Minority Leader McConnell of acting "either with ignorance of the facts or ignoring the facts" by rejecting changes sought by the House. 

"Employees are in there because they are associated with various justices and their families are obviously associated with them," he said Tuesday, citing online threats directed at court employees. "It is what it is and we're going to move the bill."

Police detained 26-year-old Nicholas John Roske early in the morning after he called local law enforcement and said he had come from California to kill a "specific United States Supreme Court justice," according to a FBI affidavit filed in federal court. The Supreme Court confirmed the threat was directed at Kavanaugh, and a man was taken into custody near the justice's house in Montgomery County, Maryland.

The call to the Montgomery County Emergency Communications Center came after U.S. deputy marshals reported seeing a person dressed in black clothing and carrying a backpack and suitcase emerge from a taxi stopped in front of Kavanaugh's house.

After Roske was arrested, police found in his belongings a black tactical chest rig and tactical knife, a Glock 17 pistol with two magazines and ammunition, pepper spray, zip ties, and numerous tools, as well as hiking boots with padding on the outside of the soles and other items, the affidavit states.

He allegedly told police he was upset about the draft Supreme Court opinion to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide, and the recent school shooting in Uvalde Texas. He allegedly said he believed Kavanaugh would rule in favor of gun rights.

Roske was charged with attempting to murder a Supreme Court justice.

In addition to the arrest and threats directed at Kavanaugh, demonstrators have also gathered outside the homes of several other justices, including Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Amy Coney Barrett, to protest a rolling back of abortion rights and the draft decision leaked and published last month.

Following the release of the draft, the Supreme Court police reported a "significant increase in violent threats," including threats made on social media and directed at members of the court, according to an intelligence bulletin from the Department of Homeland Security. Attorney General Merrick Garland also directed the U.S. Marshals Service to provide additional support to the marshal of the Supreme Court to ensure the safety of the justices amid the public backlash.

Rebecca Kaplan contributed reporting.

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