Supreme Court spokeswoman Patricia McCabe declined to comment on behalf of the court, including her police department, when asked how the court handles arrests.
Patty Hartman, a spokeswoman for the US Attorney’s Office, said the office «takes all disruptions of official proceedings seriously and makes prosecution decisions in accordance with the facts and the law.» That may include taking into account the defendant’s criminal record, she said.
Neither McCabe, Hartman nor a federal court spokeswoman commented on why the Supreme Court protesters spent 30 hours in detention before their first court appearance. A spokeswoman for the District of Columbia jail did not respond to requests for comment.
‘Stiff, Stiff Sentences’
The Supreme Court appeared to take a tougher approach to protesters after a series of riots that began in 2014. In the first, serial protester Kai Newkirk Got up during oral argument in protest against the Citizens United v. 2010 Supreme Court FEC that paved the way for unlimited independent spending in federal elections.
When five people stood up during oral argument in April 2015 to oppose Citizens United’s decision, the third protest in just over a year, the court’s patience appeared to be running thin.
During that interruption, Chief Justice John Roberts issued a warning from the court saying the protesters could be punished. Fellow conservative Justice Antonin Scalia also weighed in: «Give them tough, tough sentences,» he said in comments captured on a audio recording which was presented as evidence.
In that case, the five defendants, like the previous protesters, spent the night in jail. But unlike the previous cases, US District Judge Christopher Cooper sentenced them to an additional weekend in jail. One defendant received a two-weekend sentence. Federal prosecutors had sought prison terms of 10 days.
The defendants were also arraigned in federal court, as were the three abortion rights protesters, rather than the local Superior Court in the District of Columbia, according to court records, and faced a separate additional charge. to interrupt a legal proceeding that could have led to up to a year in prison.
Newkirk, who helped plan that subsequent protest, said that, taking into account all the differences from previous cases, it seemed that «the chief justice and others in the court were frustrated and perhaps angry about what was happening and wanted to take strong action and try to stop it.»
A defense attorney who has handled protest cases before the Supreme Court said a prosecutor told him at the time that the US attorney’s office was «obtaining instructions» from court attorneys.
Within an institution where the building itself is considered a sacred temple, this was an example of the court «exercising its control», the lawyer said.
Those familiar with the Washington protests point to some possible reasons protesters are being treated differently. One is that the Capitol Police have to deal with many more protesters, sometimes needing to process hundreds of people quickly. By contrast, while protests outside the Supreme Court building are common, it is relatively unusual for people to disrupt court proceedings inside the courtroom.
There are also inherent differences between the two institutions. Congress is the place where democratically elected representatives meet and a place where members of the public have the right to express their views. Meanwhile, the high court is not directly responsible to the people and likes to see itself as apolitical. As such, there may be a desire to crack down on protesters to help maintain that image. The respective police departments also have different legal powers, which could affect how they solve cases.
The legal community’s reverence for the court was on display during the sentencing of the three protesters this month. Assistant US Attorney Meredith Mayer-Dempsey said the women’s conduct «demonstrates egregious disrespect for the land’s highest court,» adding that they had shown a lack of remorse even when they pleaded guilty. She said a disruption in the courtroom was «more significant» than similar conduct outside the building.
Paterson, Enfield and Baker, standing together at the lectern, gave an emotional joint statement saying their protest against the removal of abortion rights was in the great tradition of nonviolent civil disobedience in the United States.
«We did this in solidarity with women across the country who are now facing criminal prosecution and jail time for making basic health care decisions about their bodies,» Baker said, her voice cracking, addressing the ruling’s impact on abortion. .