General Assembly shelves Youngkin’s proposal to make protesting at judges’ homes a misdemeanor
Virginia lawmakers on April 12 shelved an amendment from Gov. Youngkin that would have made protesting outside the homes of judges, witnesses or court officials a Class 1 misdemeanor.
A proposal from Gov. Glenn Youngkin to make protesting outside the residence of a judge, witness or court official with the intent of impeding or influencing the administration of justice a Class 1 misdemeanor failed to pass out of the General Assembly yesterday.
Democrats in the Senate voiced opposition to the amendment on the floor yesterday, saying it endangers the First Amendment right to freedom of assembly.
“Once we start to say we’re going to put the First Amendment on the back burner because we don’t want folks to be intimidated, I think we’ll be going down a slippery slope,” said Sen. Joe Morrissey, D-Richmond.
Youngkin recommended a similar amendment in the state budget last year with a higher penalty of a Class 6 felony, but it was rejected by both Republicans and Democrats in the House.
His proposal last year came after abortion rights protests were held outside the homes of several U.S. Supreme Court justices in Northern Virginia following the court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade. Youngkin sent a letter to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors asking for an expanded security perimeter around the properties.
Picketing outside of homes is already a Class 3 misdemeanor in Virginia. But Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeffrey McKay told CNN last year he would not grant Youngkin’s request because he believed the law is likely a violation of the First Amendment.
“Given the recent intimidation of supreme court justices, this is an essential legislative proposal and the governor hopes the general assembly moves forward with this amendment,” said Youngkin spokesperson Macaulay Porter this week in an email.
Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, echoed similar support for the amendment on the floor, saying it “furthers the cause of protecting the integrity of our civil and criminal justice system from conduct that is being committed with the intention of undermining it.”
The original bills Youngkin had proposed amending, from Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Charlottesville, and Del. Jay Leftwich, R-Chesapeake, would make the online publication of the personal information of any active or retired federal or state justices, judges and magistrates with the intent to intimidate or harass – a practice also known as doxxing – a Class 6 felony, with a mandatory minimum imprisonment sentence of six months.
Deeds said the bills were introduced in response to a recommendation from the Judicial Council of Virginia after online leaking of the personal information of magistrates who wrote warrants for those involved in the deadly 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville.
The amendment was rejected on a party-line vote in the Senate 19-21. It also died quietly in the House after Majority Leader Terry Kilgore, R-Scott, requested it be passed by for the day, effectively shelving it.
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