Jun 15, 2022

The SCOTUS bill & Kavanaugh threats.

The SCOTUS bill & Kavanaugh threats.

Plus, revisiting Boudin's recall and a Ray Epps piece.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 13 minutes.

The Supreme Court security bill. Plus, I change my mind about the Boudin recall and preview our Friday edition.

Justice Kavanaugh, who has been under threat, being sworn in with his family at the White House. Image: White House
Justice Kavanaugh, who has been under threat, being sworn in with his family at the White House. Image: White House 

On Friday.

This Friday, in our subscribers only edition, I'm going to be writing about Ray Epps — the man at the center of many theories around January 6. Epps has been accused of being everything from an FBI informant, to a provocateur who pushed people to storm the Capitol, to a regular old Trump supporter who organically showed up on Jan. 6 in D.C. to object to the election. He has been featured on Fox News and invoked by Republican members of the Senate and House as proof that Jan. 6 was a “false flag” operation. In the last few weeks, I've gotten dozens of emails asking me to write about his story. If you have some Ray Epps questions or stories you think I should read, feel free to reply to this email and send them in. On Friday, I’ll publish what I’ve found out.


Quick hits.

  1. South Carolina, Maine, Nevada and North Dakota had primary elections yesterday. In South Carolina, Nancy Mace — who criticized Trump and voted to certify Biden's election — defeated a Trump-backed challenger. Meanwhile, Tom Rice, a House Republican who voted to impeach Trump, was defeated by a Trump-backed challenger.  In a Texas special election race, Republican Mayra Flores defeated Democrat Dan Sanchez 51% to 43% in a heavily Hispanic county Biden won by 13% in 2020. You can read about all the results here.
  2. A Russian court extended the detention of WNBA star Brittney Griner until July 2. She has been in custody since February for allegedly carrying a hash oil vape cartridge in her luggage while traveling in Russia for a game. (The extension)
  3. The Supreme Court dismissed an appeal brought by Republican-led states to challenge the way President Joe Biden ended a Trump-era policy intended to curb illegal immigration. (The ruling)
  4. President Biden is bringing in former Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms to replace Cedric Richmond as one of his top advisors. (The change)
  5. President Biden is weighing a rollback of some Trump tariffs on China to ease inflation. (The rollback)

Our 'Quick Hits' section is created in partnership with Ground News, a website and app that rates the bias of news coverage and news outlets.


Today's topic.

The Supreme Court's security bill. Yesterday, the House of Representatives passed the Supreme Court Police Parity Act to extend Supreme Court security to the family members of justices, sending it to President Biden's desk for a signature. The bill passed by a 396-27 vote on Tuesday and had passed the Senate unanimously more than a month ago.

In the Senate, the bill was first passed after the leak of a decision that would potentially overturn Roe v. Wade. That leak, originally published in Politico, set off a firestorm of criticism and ultimately led to protests outside the homes of some Supreme Court justices. That sparked concern from senators about the safety of the justices and their families. The Senate then passed a bill to extend their security to family members, but the legislation was held up in the House by Democrats who wanted to extend that security to the family of Supreme Court staff and still more members of the judiciary. They cited the recent murder of a former federal judge's son at his home in 2020. Other Democrats also tried to build momentum for a separate bill that bolstered security for abortion providers.

However, last week, the delay on the bill broke after a man was arrested outside the home of Justice Brett Kavanaugh. The man was charged with attempted murder, and his sister had convinced him to call the police on himself. Upon calling 911, the man informed the FBI that he was armed and had traveled from California to kill Kavanaugh over potential rulings on an abortion case that would overturn Roe v. Wade and a gun control case.

The threat to Kavanaugh's life, along with signals the Senate would reject an expanded version of the bill, reignited sufficient momentum in the House to pass the bill yesterday. The bill will cost an estimated $19.4 million — $10.3 million to the U.S. Marshals Service and $9.1 million to the Supreme Court for unexpected security costs.

Below, we'll take a look at some reactions from the left and right to this story, as well as a point of agreement, and then my take.


Agreed.

Both sides were actually interested in expanding security for the court. Steny Hoyer, the Majority Leader in the House, said “Nobody doesn’t want to protect the justices of the Supreme Court," which just about sums it up. House Democrats wanted to extend the bill to more Supreme Court staff and other federal judges, but Republicans wanted to focus on the Supreme Court's justices. Each side condemned the threat to Kavanaugh's life and supported more robust security for the justices.


What the left is saying.

  • The left wants Supreme Court protections, but also worries about their staff members.
  • Some called on fellow liberals to tone down their harsh rhetoric as political violence seems to be increasing.
  • Others argue the left once again folded to conservatives on half measures when they shouldn't have.

In The Washington Post, Ruth Marcus said "the easy part" is agreeing that Supreme Court justices should be protected, even if it requires more funding.

"The harder part is grappling seriously with the implications of this episode, which could have ended in unfathomable tragedy. That means not ducking responsibility for helping to create a climate of unhinged intolerance that may have fueled this dangerous moment. But it also means not leaping to assign blame or hijack the episode to reinforce preexisting conclusions. Deranged individuals do deranged things, and this is true at both ends of the political spectrum," Marcus said. "It is true that some have gone too far with their rhetoric. One is Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), who stood on the Supreme Court steps in 2020 in advance of a Supreme Court ruling on a Louisiana abortion law and thundered, about Kavanaugh and Trump appointee Neil M. Gorsuch, 'I want to tell you, Gorsuch. 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.'

"Still, it’s possible to take this argument too far," she wrote. "Abortion opponents speak passionately about the imperative of protecting unborn human life. Are they similarly responsible for winding up the zealots who have taken the next steps of bombing abortion clinics or murdering physicians who perform abortions? Somehow those who complain of rhetorical excess on one side are loath to hold those with whom they agree to the same standards. Indeed, Schumer’s language was oddly reminiscent of Kavanaugh’s angry screed against Democrats at his confirmation hearings: 'You sowed the wind for decades to come. I fear that the whole country will reap the whirlwind.' Those who blasted Kavanaugh cannot credibly excuse Schumer, but also vice versa."

In USA Today, Rex Huppke criticized the "muted" response from liberals.

"I don't mean to sound like a radical in our age of staunch political side-taking, but I think an assassination plot against a U.S. Supreme Court justice is a mighty horrific thing that should outrage everyone," Huppke wrote. "It's the same way I think we should react universally to [an] attack on the U.S. Capitol by a violent mob. Both are attacks on our democracy, and neither should be downplayed, glossed over or politicked away. The United States Attorney for the District of Maryland said [the man] faces charges of attempted murder of a Supreme Court justice. This was an assassination plot, targeting a member of one of the three branches of our federal government, reportedly over the possibility of Roe v. Wade being overturned.

"It struck me as a significant and horrifying development in a country that continues to see examples of boiling-hot political rhetoric becoming acts, or potential acts, of political violence. But the reaction to the arrest outside Kavanaugh’s home felt muted, particularly among my fellow liberals," he wrote. "As U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell called for the House to pass a Senate-approved Supreme Court security bill, I saw people on social media express outrage that Republicans were pushing swift legislative action after the arrest of an armed man outside Kavanaugh’s home when they showed no such urgency following the horrific Uvalde elementary school shooting... I’m angry, beyond measure, at the way Republicans fight even the slightest gun-control initiative. But that doesn’t mean their desire to protect Supreme Court justices is wrong. We can be mad at one thing without equating it to something else."

Ja'han Jones criticized the bill, saying it made Democrats look bad after caving to Mitch McConnell.

"The House on Tuesday passed a bill authorizing enhanced security for families of Supreme Court justices. But, thanks in large part to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and his enablers in the Democratic Party, Supreme Court clerks and staff won't receive the same protection," Jones said. "Republican complaints over public opposition to the conservative-tilted court spurred the bill's creation. It was written in reaction to demonstrations outside justices’ homes last month protesting a leaked draft opinion showing the court is likely to rescind federal abortion rights this session. In essence, the bill was conceived as a performative measure meant to assert the court’s dominance and the public’s futility in breaking it. Unfortunately, Democrats who hold the majority went along with the act and the bill passed through the Senate on May 9 before the House passed it Tuesday.

"McConnell even suggested on Monday that conservative anger over the leaked draft opinion, which some believe came from a staffer, is behind GOP opposition to including staffers in the bill. McConnell apparently thinks Supreme Court justices do work so dangerous their families need security. But simply because he’s vindictive, court employees — many of whom are publicly known and also participate in this work — won’t receive the same protection," Jones wrote. "This bill is a messaging disaster for Democrats. As many have pointed out, the optics of taking drastic steps to supposedly protect justices’ families from violence are terrible given lawmakers haven’t moved with similar urgency to protect the public from gun violence. It’s even more odious that conservatives on this court are likely going to issue rulings that increase the threat of gun violence to people without SCOTUS-level protection. The Senate's security bill seems like a great way to insulate right-wing justices from the impacts of such decisions."


What the right is saying.

  • The right criticizes Democrats who held up the bill or voted against it.
  • Some argue that the left is inciting violence and needs to tone down their rhetoric.
  • Others point to a larger trend of political violence and express concern about the future.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board criticized 27 Democrats who voted against the bill and held it up.

"The next few weeks could be especially volatile as the public awaits a decision in the Mississippi abortion case, Dobbs v. Jackson. Yet House Democrats ignored the security bill for more than a month. Democrats claimed to want to broaden the bill to protect clerks and other court staff. But clerks don’t vote in cases and have no public profile. The real threat here is to the Justices—from a fanatic trying to preclude a 5-4 ruling, such as one overturning the abortion precedent Roe v. Wade," the board said. "That threat isn’t hypothetical after a young man dressed in black with a gun and burglary tools showed up near the Kavanaugh residence last week, upset about the impending abortion decision and perhaps mentally unwell.

"Senators pressed the House to pass the security bill, and Mrs. Pelosi relented and on Tuesday put the measure on the floor, where it passed 396-27. But wait: 27 nays? Yes, more than two dozen Democrats voted against sensible protections," the board said. "President Biden would be wise to sign the bill immediately, and tell members of his own party to call off the intimidation campaign against the High Court. The rancor of American politics today will look quaint if political violence harms a Justice and changes the makeup of the Court."

In The National Review, Dan McLaughlin said Democrats need to "call off" targeting of justices.

"Overheated rhetoric is bad enough, but as always, I stand by my view that political violence is not the fault of political rhetoric, no matter how excessive. Things have gone rather far beyond mere rhetoric with the Supreme Court, however," he wrote. "In September 2021, a mob of pro-abortion protesters from 'ShutDownDC' descended upon Justice Kavanaugh’s home over the Texas abortion-law case. Then, we had the unprecedented leak of Justice Samuel Alito’s draft opinion in Dobbs, which would overturn Roe v. Wade. In the aftermath, a pro-abortion group 'RuthSentUs' publicly shared maps to the homes of the six Republican-appointed justices, and sent protests there to intimidate the justices. We learned that 'law enforcement agencies are investigating social-media threats to burn down or storm the Supreme Court building and murder justices and their clerks,' yet Democrats such as Schumer and Anne Kuster dismissed the mob threat to the Court as no big deal.

"Protests at a judge’s home are already illegal under federal law, but the Biden administration made no move to prosecute the protesters, again on the theory that breaking federal law in a political protest in D.C. is no big deal. A bipartisan bill to beef up security for the justices unanimously passed the Senate, but Nancy Pelosi blocked it in the House," he said. "A California man in his 20s was arrested outside of Kavanaugh’s home at 1:50 a.m. this morning, allegedly armed with a gun, knife, and pepper spray and threatening to kill the justice... This is intolerable. It is far outside the bounds of political protest, and it should make Democrats and progressives think twice about the whirlwind they are summoning with the campaign of intimidation against the justices. Pass the security bill. Arrest anyone who protests at justices’ houses. Cooperate with the leak investigation. And call off the dogs, before somebody really gets bit."

Marc Thiessen criticized Schumer and Attorney General Merrick Garland for not doing anything about the threat to justices.

"Schumer did not just threaten the justices: After left-wing activists doxed Kavanaugh and other conservatives on the court — publishing their partial addresses online, as well as a map allegedly showing where the justices live — the senator dismissed the danger of protesting in front of justices’ homes. 'There’s protests three, four times a week outside my house,' he said. 'The American way to peacefully protest is okay.' No, it’s not okay to protest outside the home of a Supreme Court justice. It’s illegal. Federal law — Section 1507 of Title 18 of the U.S. Code — clearly states that it is unlawful to protest near a 'residence occupied or used by [a] judge, juror, witness, or court officer' with the intent of influencing 'the discharge of his duty.'

"But Attorney General Merrick Garland has done absolutely nothing to enforce that law. Indeed, just hours after the potential assassin’s arrest, protesters were back in front of Kavanaugh’s house, violating federal law with impunity and sending him an unambiguous message: We know where you live," Thiessen wrote. "This can’t be allowed to continue. In July 2020 — just a few months after Schumer’s comments — the son of U.S. District Judge Esther Salas was shot and killed in the family’s home; the primary suspect (who shot and killed himself hours later) was a lawyer who had called Salas a 'lazy and incompetent' judge. Last Friday, a retired Wisconsin judge, John Roemer, was killed in his home; the suspected gunman had been sentenced by Roemer to six years in prison in connection with an armed burglary. And now we have a man accused of attempting to assassinate a Supreme Court justice."


My take.

We're in a dangerous moment. And I think we need some leaders on both sides who are willing to walk us back off the ledge.

After the Buffalo shooting, which ushered in a wave of finger-pointing at people like Tucker Carlson, I wrote this:

I don't think Tucker Carlson is responsible for this shooting any more than Rachel Maddow was responsible for the shooter who attacked Republican congressmen in 2017. Radicalization happens for many different reasons in many different contexts, but we should employ a consistent standard of individual responsibility. The document the shooter published, which I read, is a mishmash of racism, anti-Semitism, eco-extremism and anti-corporate language. He criticizes Fox News for being run by Jews in the same breath he describes himself as being on the "mild-moderate authoritarian left."

After the Uvalde shooting, I wrote about the lines of defense I see against mass shootings — putting family, friends and community near the top. The same logic applies here. In fact, this is actually an example of a good outcome: This man, clearly in distress, alerted his sister to a failed attempt at a justice's life. According to the reports we have, the sister then talked him into turning himself in to the police by calling 911 on himself, and he obliged. I may have called 911 myself if I were her, but she clearly understood the situation and her brother well, and intervened in a helpful way.

What I find more distressing is the lack of this kind of intervention from our political leaders. Merrick Garland, for instance, should be prosecuting people who are showing up outside Supreme Court justices’ homes. As Marc Thiessen rightly points out, this is not ambiguous: It is plainly illegal to protest near the "residence occupied or used by [a] judge, juror, witness, or court officer" in order to influence their decision making. That law exists for a good reason: To prevent acute public pressure on people involved in court decisions that are supposed to be independent.

The power of assembly is an important part of American life and there may be times to turn a blind eye to blase or non-threatening protests, but this is not one of them. People are mapping out paths to the justices’ houses, threats to their lives are prominent on social media, judges and their families are being killed across the country, and someone literally drove from California to Maryland with the intent to murder Justice Kavanaugh. The attorney general should send a message. It’s abhorrent that he hasn’t.

So should Biden, Schumer, McConnell, Maddow, Carlson, and everyone else in power. In a sane country, a better-functioning one, our leaders would be responding to the wave of political violence by appearing in commercials together calling on Americans to put down their arms. Maddow, Carlson and the like would include disarming language nightly, telling their viewers that that Republicans or undocumented immigrants or whoever else aren't subhuman and shouldn't be exterminated. When you insist we're being "invaded" or a political party is a threat to your life or an election was stolen and your viewers really believe you, it's a logical conclusion to expect someone to resort to political violence.

I only have a small platform but will happily do my part: There’s no need to get into the thicket of a moral debate about when and where violence is okay. All you need to know is that political violence is not a useful means to an end. Killing Martin Luther King Jr. did not stop the civil rights movement. Killing Abraham Lincoln did not propel the South to victory. Killing John F. Kennedy did not quell the movement he led in the 1960s. Rioting on the Capitol didn’t stop Biden from becoming president. Violence during the George Floyd protests did not advance the movement against police brutality. Trying to take the life of a Supreme Court justice will not usher in an era of rulings that you support.

The bill is good. We should offer security to the families of justices. I would have voted to offer it to staff, too, who are increasingly being doxxed online and targeted by people with huge platforms. This bill cost $19 million and I’m unclear how much expanding it would have cost, but I think it would have been worth it. Still, while I understand Democrats wanting to extend those protections, the level of notoriety justices and their families have is still leagues more than any staffer. It was the right move to break the stalemate in a hurry after the events of last week. Hopefully, Biden signs the bill quickly, and pairs it with a clear and definitive denouncement of the fact it has to exist in the first place.

Have thoughts about "my take?" You can reply to this email and write in or leave a comment if you're a subscriber.


Your questions, answered.

Q: Regarding your coverage of Boudin's recall - I've seen a lot of chatter on Twitter that the San Francisco P.D. basically refused to police/pursue a lot of crime cases in protest of Boudin and how it will be a template for other departments across the country to do the same when facing a progressive wanting real reform.  Is there any truth to this that could be read up on?

— Alex, Houston, Texas.

Tangle: I write a lot about the willingness to be open-minded to new information and change your mind. So, whenever I get a chance, I like to model that behavior. Today is one of those days: I think I was wrong about Boudin's recall.

After writing my piece last week, I was inundated with feedback from readers in California. I shared some of it in this document, but dozens of other emails were personal stories asked to be kept anonymous about experiences living in San Francisco and Los Angeles over the last few years. These were lifelong or decades-long residents explaining in vivid detail the way the city has changed and the impact of Boudin's election. Many of them also sent me this moving piece in The Atlantic on how San Francisco became a failed city. I'd read that piece to answer your question (spoiler alert: yes, it very much appears to be true).

I desperately want to see changes to our prisons, our justice system, and the roles police play in society. But the overarching story being told by people living in San Francisco through the pandemic is quite simple: Property crimes are basically being ignored by police, addiction and overdoses are being accepted as inevitable, and nothing is being done about the rampant housing crisis. Boudin exacerbated those problems, even if he wasn't responsible for them, and the voters who participated in the election took their anger out on him. It wasn't just "rich people" and "NIMBYs" but progressives, Democrats and working class residents, too.

The response I got to the piece was too overwhelming to ignore. There were, certainly, things I didn't touch on from the pro-Boudin side, like the success of other progressive district attorneys in the region, or the huge amount of money rich conservatives poured in to defeat him. But I was also far too dismissive of the everyday experiences of people on the ground in the Bay area and of the fact that many of these crime statistics simply aren’t being reported. Again, after reading a ton about this over the last few weeks (and, frankly, years), I'd suggest this piece for a vivid and moving look at what happened.

Want to ask a question? You can reply to this email and write in (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.


A story that matters.

Real wage growth is being crushed by inflation. While much has been made about the tight labor market and workers' desire for flexibility, jobs with a sense of purpose and the option of remote work, more and more workers are simply interested in cost of living wage adjustments (COLAs). That is, raises that keep up with actual inflation. Unions and other workers are beginning to seek out these protections in their contracts. Wage growth has been celebrated for surpassing 6% in the last year, but inflation has grown at 8.6%. Real inflation adjusted hourly earnings in May were $31.95, 19 cents less than February 2020, right before the onset of the pandemic, according to Axios. You can read the story here.


Numbers.

  • 2,700. The number of federal judges, prosecutors and court officials protected by the U.S. Marshals Service.
  • 4,511. The number of threats and inappropriate communications against those officials in 2021, according to the U.S. Marshals Service.
  • 926. The number of such incidents in 2015.
  • 108. The number of Republican candidates for statewide office or Congress who have directly denied or questioned the 2020 election results.
  • 27 years. The lifetime of Internet Explorer, which Microsoft just announced it would no longer support.
  • 2.2 million. The number of active customers Coinbase lost between 2021 and late March of this year as the value of cryptocurrencies fell.

Have a nice day.

Kenichi Horie just made history as the oldest person to ever sail solo across the Pacific Ocean. The 83-year-old Japanese adventurer sailed from San Francisco to the Kii Strait off the coast of Japan. It took him 69 days. After leaving San Francisco in late March, Horie arrived in the strait on Sunday, spent the night on his 19-foot Suntory Mermaid III, and was then towed into his home port as onlookers cheered. Horie carried a stock of medicine with him on his boat but said he only ever used eye drops and Band-Aids during his two months alone at sea. “That shows how healthy I am,” Horie said. “I’m still in the middle of my youth.” The Associated Press has the story.


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