Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas clutched his pearls on Friday as he regarded Americans so distraught over the prospect of losing human rights in their country that some showed up at justices’ Washington-area homes to address the people who have the power to change course.
Conservatives like Thomas, he said, have never subjected their political opponents to such tactics.
“We’ve never done it,” Thomas said, addressing a wood-paneled room of assembled conservatives in Dallas.
“You would never visit Supreme Court justices’ houses when things didn’t go our way. We didn’t throw temper tantrums. It is incumbent on us to always act appropriately and not to repay tit for tat,” he said. The audience clapped.
The crowd appeared particularly receptive to the justice’s commentary on liberals, as he placed himself squarely in the right-wing camp despite other justices’ attempts to emphasize the importance of neutrality. Multiple people asked follow-up questions.
“We are to conduct ourselves better than they conduct themselves,” Thomas said.
Later he added: “You also will not see people going to other people’s houses, attacking them at dinner, at a restaurant, throwing things at them.”
Abortion rights activists have been sounding the alarm since a Supreme Court draft opinion leaked earlier this month revealing that the court was poised to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, likely rolling back abortion rights by half a century. Protests have erupted in major U.S. cities, outside the Supreme Court building in Washington, and, yes, outside of justices’ homes, prompting a chagrined response from some Democrats worried about the perception of civility even while the suburban protests have been peaceful.
Notably, civility is not a quality people on the other side of the abortion debate are especially known for. As proponents of abortion rights pointed out on social media this week, modern American history is filled with examples of brutal violence against doctors who perform abortions, and against women ― frequently those who are already mothers ― wishing to end a pregnancy.
Dr. David Gunn became the first known abortion provider to be murdered in the United States when in 1993 he was shot outside his Pensacola, Florida, clinic by an anti-abortion protester. Around the same time, the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology declared an “epidemic of antiabortion violence” around the country.
In 1994, the doctor who replaced Gunn, Dr. John Bayard Britton, was shot dead alongside a volunteer at the Pensacola clinic. In 1998, an abortion opponent detonated a nail bomb outside a clinic in Alabama, killing a security guard and blinding a nurse.
Anti-abortion activists stalk, intimidate, threaten and enact violence against people who believe abortion should be accessible — or anyone who even approaches an abortion clinic.
According to a friend-of-the-court brief in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ― the case that might overturn Roe ― such incidents happen with appalling regularity.
“There have been thousands of violent incidents including blockades, invasions, chemical attacks, arsons, bombings, death threats, stalking incidents, shootings, sniper attacks and cold-blooded murder,” said the brief, which accused the government of ignoring the violence carried out in the name of prohibiting abortion access.
Between 1977 and 2019, there were at least 11 murders, 26 attempted murders, 756 physical threats, 620 incidents of stalking, four kidnappings, 42 bombings, 189 arsons, 100 attempted bombings or arsons, and 662 bomb threats, according to the brief, citing data gathered by the National Abortion Federation.
“The actual numbers are likely much higher,” the brief said.
Among the most well-known cases in recent memory is that of Kansas physician Dr. George Tiller, a longtime reproductive rights advocate who was shot in the head while serving as an usher at his church in 2009. His killer knew that Tiller routinely wore a bulletproof vest to protect himself against attacks.
In 2015, three people were shot dead outside a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado: a police officer, an Iraq War veteran and a woman accompanying her friend to the clinic. Nine others were injured in the mass shooting, carried out by a man calling himself “a warrior for the babies.”
Providers and activists said the violence was getting worse before the pandemic. In 2019, at least three young men in three different states were arrested for threatening or making plans to carry out mass shootings against Planned Parenthood clinics.
Supreme Court justices have also not been immune from right wing violence, despite what Thomas may believe. Justice Harry Blackmun, who penned the court’s majority opinion in Roe v. Wade, received death threats for that opinion. In 1985, someone fired a bullet into his apartment. FBI agents recovered it from a chair.