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The Virginia debate over security protection for Supreme Court justices

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NPR

Virginia's governor is clashing with leaders in Fairfax County about security precautions at the home of several Supreme Court justices.

Three Republican-appointed Supreme Court justices live in Fairfax County, leading to security concerns now that abortion-rights protesters are showing up at their houses. Governor Glenn Youngkin is calling on Fairfax County to limit unauthorized vehicles and pedestrian access to the neighborhoods.

But Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay says no way.

"What he's asked us to do is take our standard perimeter, our visible perimeter, and turn it into an active perimeter where we would be ID checking every single car and person who came into the neighborhoods of these Supreme Court justices," McKay says. "And we don't think there's any constitutional basis for doing that."

A spokeswoman for the governor says "there has been no ruling" on the constitutionality of that kind of perimeter. But legal expert Rich Kelsey says it would be problematic.

"The real question isn't so much can the police stop cars and people today. Yes they can," Kelsey says. "Can they do that in perpetuity? No they cannot. And I think there could be a real problem here with trying to set up an active perimeter when there's no known date to end it."

Also at issue is a state law prohibiting picketing that disrupts the tranquility of a home, which McKay says is clearly unconstitutional and he would never enforce it. Then there's a federal law prohibiting picketing at the homes of judges. McKay says if the governor wants federal law to be enforced, he should ask a federal law enforcement agency.

A spokeswoman for the governor responds that Youngkin is asking the United States attorney general to take action. 

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.