WASHINGTON — On a warm September 2021 evening, a quiet, wealthy, Chevy Chase neighborhood erupted with chants of activists marching, singing, and yelling.
Mere days before the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg would pass away, protestors gathered around Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s suburban home. The justice and his family appeared to be absent, though police stood about the street and around the home.
Led by activists from ShutDownDC, the protestors demanded that Kavanaugh “resign now,” condemned the justice’s decision to dismiss a challenge to Texas’ heartbeat law, and repeatedly expressed fears that Roe v. Wade would be overturned.
This incident is just one of many reflecting tactics by leftist groups, activists, and lawmakers to intimidate, threaten, and smear the reputations of Supreme Court justices, experts told The Daily Wire — and even bully their own liberal justices to retire.
The decades-long campaign to control the court has heightened in recent months as Democrats and leftist activists observe Justice Clarence Thomas’s influence growing and realize they have “lost their stronghold on the court,” Judicial Crisis Network President Carrie Severino said in a phone interview.
The left has long taken the court for granted, Severino said, believing the Supreme Court was “their ace in the hole for getting policies achieved that they couldn’t do through the elected branches.”
Now that this is not the case, Democrats and leftist activists widely advocate for expanding the court. And they subject both conservative Supreme Court nominees and justices to character assassinations, threats of retaliation, attacks on their legitimacy, and more.
During her confirmation hearings, media, Democrats, and activists portrayed Justice Amy Coney Barrett as an “extremist” Catholic radical determined to overturn Roe v. Wade and take a knife to the Affordable Care Act, even suggesting that Barrett adopted her children for nefarious reasons.
Barrett’s Catholicism made her unfit to serve as a judge, Democrats and activist suggested, and media disingenuously highlighted Barrett’s reported connections to the Catholic group People of Praise, falsely reporting that the group was the inspiration for Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
The attacks on Barrett might be considered nothing when compared to the campaign against Kavanaugh orchestrated by abortion rights groups and propelled by statements and condemnations from Democrats like Vice President Kamala Harris (a senator at the time) and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker.
Kavanaugh was accused of sexually assaulting multiple women, including Christine Blasey Ford, whose attorney Debra Katz later admitted that putting “an asterisk next to” Kavanaugh’s name before “he takes a scalpel” to Roe v. Wade was “part of what motivated” Ford to speak out.
Though the Senate Judiciary Committee found no evidence corroborating the allegations against Kavanaugh, his critics continued to portray him as a predator.
Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court one year ago today—and his seat on the Court remains a national travesty. Read my op-ed on why I’ve called for an impeachment inquiry into Kavanaugh. https://t.co/bfRDn3prgI
— Vice President Kamala Harris (@VP) October 6, 2019
“The fact that we actually have conservative, originalist majority in the court is making the left crazy,” Severino said. “That is really what’s making them so outraged and is driving some of these new lows in our politics surrounding the courts.”
In March 2020, as the Supreme Court heard arguments in the major abortion case June Medical Services v. Russo, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) threatened both Kavanaugh and Gorsuch over potentially ruling against abortion.
“I want to tell you Gorsuch,” Schumer warned, “and I want to tell you Kavanaugh. You have released the whirlwind, and you will pay the price.”
“You won’t know what hit you if you go forward with these awful decisions,” he added.
The threats prompted a rare rebuke from Chief Justice John Roberts, who warned that “threatening statements of this sort from the highest levels of government are not only inappropriate, they are dangerous.”
The court ultimately ruled with abortion advocates in June Medical Services v. Russo, with Roberts joining the liberal members of the court.
Severino and Judicial Crisis Network have particularly criticized a network of “left-wing dark money groups in the Arabella Advisors network,” accusing these groups of doing “everything in their power to corrupt the judiciary and the judicial nominations process.”
That network includes Demand Justice, a judicial activism organization initially established as a project of the Sixteen Thirty Fund, (the “indisputable heavyweight of Democratic dark money”), which is administered by Arabella Advisors.
Demand Justice, which broke off from Sixteen Thirty Fund and registered as a nonprofit corporation in May 2021, has not responded to numerous requests for comment from The Daily Wire.
The organization is absolutely flush with cash that it intends to channel into the Supreme Court confirmation of President Joe Biden’s nominee, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson (Jackson’s hearings with senators begin this week).
Arabella Advisors, an influential progressive dark money group, has distanced itself from Demand Justice amid the organization’s increasingly high-profile judicial activism.
But conservative groups like Judicial Crisis Network insist that Arabella is the mastermind behind both the dark money trail to the Supreme Court and the smear campaign against justices who will not cooperate.
“The Supreme Court has become too partisan and too political, and with a united Democratic government the time to act is now,” Demand Justice Executive Director Brian Fallon said at the time. “The 6-3 Republican-appointed majority consistently sides with Republican politicians and corporate interests over the American people, and we must act before they rig the rules of our democracy even further.”
In April 2021, Demand Justice launched a campaign to pressure Justice Stephen Breyer to step down and make way for the first black female Supreme Court justice (Jackson was already considered the top candidate at the time).
Here's a photo of Demand Justice's billboard truck outside of Union Station. pic.twitter.com/2N1Md9WSiV
— Jennifer Bendery (@jbendery) April 9, 2021
Fallon, a former top aide to Senate Majority Leader Schumer, insisted in April 2021 that it was “worrisome that Justice Breyer has not said yet that he will step down.”
The group’s campaign was accompanied by pressure for Breyer retire from Democratic politicians, including Democratic Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Democratic New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Such pressure on a justice to retire is not new: former President Barack Obama and Democratic Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy reportedly pressured the late Justice Ginsburg to retire so that a younger liberal justice could be named, prompting Ginsburg to ask publicly in 2014, “So tell me who the president could have nominated this spring that you would rather see on the court than me?”
But the level of vitriol directed toward sitting justices as of late is different, and it is in great part due to the growing influence of Justice Thomas, says Mark Paoletta, the former general counsel for the Office of Management & Budget under President Donald Trump.
Paoletta, who served as a lawyer in the George H.W. Bush White House Counsel’s Office and worked on Justice Thomas’s confirmation, told The Daily Wire that “Justice Thomas has been laying down markers” for a long time — writing opinions that the court catches up to years later.
“This is the only branch of government they don’t control,” Paoletta said of liberal activists, noting that they worry the conservative justices “are about to come down with a bunch of rulings that they fear are going to wipe away all of these landmark liberal rulings.”
“They’re trying to de-legitimize court,” he said.
Paoletta referenced a February New Yorker piece on Amy Coney Barrett direly warning that Barrett “isn’t just another conservative—she’s the product of a Christian legal movement that is intent on remaking America.”
He also pointed to an incident in January wherein commentators and liberal media piled onto Justice Neil Gorsuch over an unverified report that the Supreme Court justice had refused to wear a mask to accommodate his colleague, Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
In an unprecedented move, Gorsuch and Sotomayor issued a joint statement that NPR’s story was “false,” noting they are “warm colleagues and friends.”
Perhaps most egregiously, Thomas’s wife has become a focal point of the “smear campaigns” that Paoletta and Severino describe. Media have dragged Ginni Thomas for appearing at the rally before the Capitol Riot, insistently suggesting that Thomas violates ethics laws due to his wife’s political interests.
“Like so many married couples, we share many of the same ideals, principles, and aspirations for America,” Thomas told The Washington Free Beacon last week. “But we have our own separate careers, and our own ideas and opinions too. Clarence doesn’t discuss his work with me, and I don’t involve him in my work.”
In a March 11 Newsweek piece, Paoletta warned that such criticism demands “a new standard for recusal that has no place in the law or in past practice,” noting that many spouses of judges work in politics or in public policy.
Those who criticize Ginni Thomas for her Republican stances often overlook the fact that Marty Ginsburg, husband to the late justice, practiced law at a firm that represented parties that were before the high court, Paoletta noted.
Ginsburg’s daughter even wrote an article about a Supreme Court case — and Ginsburg voted for the very result that her daughter advocated for.
Paoletta emphasized to The Daily Wire that Ginsburg did not recuse herself in either of the situations involving her relations, noting that the current law and standards did not require her to do this.
Yet under new activist pro-claimed-standards, Thomas is continually called to recuse himself over his wife’s longtime conservative beliefs, though she neither practices law nor writes briefs.
“She merely builds conservative coalitions to pursue shared political aims,” writes Paoletta. “None of her activities require Justice Thomas to recuse.”
“Even so, the press criticized Ginni Thomas for honoring conservative leaders at an awards luncheon, because those individuals subsequently filed amicus briefs at the Supreme Court,” he continued. “Historically, this has not required recusal.”
Ginsburg once donated an autographed copy of her VMI opinion to the pro-abortion NOW Political Action Committee, which auctioned off the opinion at a fundraiser in 1997. Moreover, in 2004, she spoke at a lecture named after herself for the NOW Legal Defense Fund, on whose board she served in the 1970s. Two weeks before that lecture, Justice Ginsburg voted in favor of a position advocated by the NOW Legal Defense Fund in an amicus brief.
“It’s all about undermining the faith in the court and trying to intimidate justices,” Paoletta told The Daily Wire. “They know that they’ll never intimidate Justice Thomas. They’ve been trying to do this since he came to town in the 1980s. And it hasn’t worked.”