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Home protests may be only way to get a powerful person’s attention

Police look on as candles left by abortion rights demonstrators sit outside the house of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito in Alexandria, Va., on May 9.STEFANI REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images

David Decosimo says we should think about judges, mayors, governors, and such first as “persons” who happen to be fulfilling a role, and argues that protests at their homes are “democratically destructive and ethically wrong” (“Why it’s wrong to protest at a judge’s home,” Ideas, May 15). What Decosimo neglects to discuss is the power differential between such role-fillers and us ordinary citizens. When a person takes on such a powerful role, it becomes their primary identity to all who are not their family or friends, and they lose some of their privacy. That loss is a characteristic of the job they sought.

I, as an ordinary citizen, cannot have a conversation with such a person as I would with a friend, so I can’t discuss or argue about something that person is doing in their powerful role. The limited power we ordinary citizens have is to protest, in a way that will get that person’s attention. In a civil society, such protests must not be violent or excessively disruptive to that person or their family and neighbors, but we do have a First Amendment right to be heard and seen in a way they can’t simply ignore. Sometimes protesting at their home is how that needs to happen.


We citizens may have the power of the ballot box (though not in any meaningful sense with judges), but that opportunity to vote can be years away, while the harm we believe the powerful person is doing may be immediate.

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito even believes, as he writes in his draft opinion striking down Roe v. Wade, that he and his fellow justices are not accountable to the “extraneous influence” of the “public’s reaction.” We protest to remind them, and all people in power, that they are accountable.


Paul Sawyer