Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Threats to Federal Judges

At the American Bar Association’s annual meeting last week in San Francisco, there was a panel of judges who had all been the target of threats after issuing controversial rulings. That panel included George Greer, the judge in the Terri Schiavo case; New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Roberto Rivera-Soto, who participated in that state court’s ruling requiring civil unions for gay couples; and Eileen O’Neill, a former Texas judge who once found Randall Terry and other anti-abortion advocates in contempt of court for refusing to follow a court order not to harass doctors in Houston.

They could also have had Judge Jones from the Dover trial, who was subject to death threats as well. Here are some examples of what they went through. From Judge Greer:

More than two years after enraging right-wing groups by ordering Terry Schiavo’s feeding tube removed, George Greer still peers over his shoulder nervously at times.

In fact, the Florida judge told a rapt audience Friday at the American Bar Association’s annual meeting, he even used an alias when he registered at his San Francisco hotel on this trip.

Two years ago, he said, someone in the Bay Area threatened to kill him over his decision to end life support for the brain-damaged Schiavo. And even though that person was prosecuted and jailed, Greer said, he’s taking no chances.

“It is a little unnerving,” he said. “I still can’t see a strange car come down my street without wondering [who’s behind the steering wheel].”…

Greer talked about he and his wife had to be placed under 24-hour watch after Operation Rescue posted their home address and phone number on its Web site. All of their mail was checked by authorities and on one occasion dead flowers were delivered to their condominium with a note reading, “No Food, No Water” — a reference to Schiavo.

“It got to the point,” Greer said, “that we felt a little trapped in our apartment.”

From Judge Rivera-Soto:

Soon after the New Jersey Supreme Court issued its ruling on same-sex marriage — which didn’t fully appease parties on either side — Rivera-Soto said he got a letter from a radio talk-show host announcing that his home address and phone number had been broadcast. The letter writer also advised the justice that the show’s prime audience included white supremacists, skinheads and members of both the Aryan Nation and the Ku Klux Klan.

“I hope you have a good life,” Rivera-Soto quoted from the letter. “However long that lasts now that people know how to find you.”

From Judge O’Neill:

O’Neill said she “pretty much … became the anti-Christ” after issuing an order preventing anti-abortion activists from harassing doctors. Her home address also was posted on Operation Rescue’s Web site and both her office and cell phones were flooded with “hate messages.”

O’Neill said she was placed under 24-hour police protection too, but found out “only much later … that there had been certain kinds of death threats against me.”

Have you noticed a pattern here? All three situations involved upsetting the religious right, two of them specifically involving Operation Rescue publicizing phone numbers and addresses so their followers can threaten judges and their families. And judges are not the only ones threatened when there is a court case the religious right doesn’t like; as I’ve written many times before, the plaintiffs in almost every prominent establishment clause case have been the victims of harassment, vandalism and death threats in their communities.

Now, this certainly does not mean that all or even most Christian conservatives would ever become violent toward their political opponents; I don’t believe for a moment that the vast majority would do so. But just as certainly, given the patterns we see all around the country in such cases, there are enough whackos amongst them to insure that virtually every time there is a prominent court case that angers the religious right, threats of violence are an inevitability.