Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) confronted an assistant attorney general on Wednesday over the Justice Department's refusal to prosecute protesters who demonstrated outside the homes of Supreme Court justices.
What is the background?
After Politico published a leaked opinion draft in early May showing the Supreme Court was planning to vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, pro-abortion activists began protesting outside the homes of the court's conservative-leaning justices.
While protesting government officials is generally lawful activity protected by the First Amendment, one federal law appeared to outlaw exactly what the protesters were doing.
Federal law 18 U.S.C. §1507 states:
Whoever, with the intent of interfering with, obstructing, or impeding the administration of justice, or with the intent of influencing any judge, juror, witness, or court officer, in the discharge of his duty, pickets or parades in or near a building housing a court of the United States, or in or near a building or residence occupied or used by such judge, juror, witness, or court officer, or with such intent uses any sound-truck or similar device or resorts to any other demonstration in or near any such building or residence, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.
However, Attorney General Merrick Garland never enforced the statute, despite a barrage of pressure from lawmakers.
What happened with Cruz?
During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Cruz grilled Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Polite Jr. over the Justice Department's inaction in prosecuting protesters under 18 U.S.C. §1507.
"Night after night after night protesters committed federal crimes on national television. Why has the Department of Justice refused to enforce 18 U.S.C. §1507?" Cruz asked.
According to Polite, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Maryland has, in fact, prosecuted an individual for "unlawful conduct" outside one Supreme Court justice's home.
"So one person?" Cruz promptly followed up.
"To date, there has been one prosecution," Polite clarified.
"What about the hundreds of others, all of whom have violated the law on the face of it?" Cruz shot back. "It's not complicated. The law is very clear. Why does the DOJ pick and choose which criminal laws to enforce, and why does it seem to exactly follow the pattern of partisan preferences of the Biden White House?"
In response, Polite said the Justice Department has increased the resources for U.S. Marshals to better protect the Supreme Court justices, but said he disagrees with Cruz's charge that the DOJ is not enforcing 18 U.S.C. §1507.
"Final question: Was the one prosecution you referenced a [18 U.S.C. §1507] prosecution or was it something else?" Cruz then asked.
"I don't believe it was under that statute," Polite admitted.
"So you haven't brought a single one?" Cruz followed up.
When Polite responded by not answering Cruz's question directly, Cruz ended his questioning, saying, "I think you need to follow the law."