Leonard Pitts: It’s different when it’s your home

(Kenny Holston | The New York Times) Demonstrators march to Justice Samuel Alito’s house for a candlelight vigil as part of an abortion rights protest in Alexandria, Va., on Monday, May 9, 2022. The Supreme Court has voted to strike down the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, according to a leaked initial draft majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito that was published by Politico on May 2, 2022.

It’s different when it’s your home.

I speak from experience. For 46 years, I’ve made my living by expressing my opinions. And an opinion — at least when it’s on a matter of substance — is by definition a divisive thing. That’s why social etiquette requires that you steer clear of talking politics or religion with cocktail party strangers.

Over the years, I’ve fielded thousands of angry calls and letters. I’ve been challenged at public gatherings, received excrement in the mail. It comes with the territory.

But it’s different when it’s your home.

It’s different when your son picks up the ringing phone and there’s some racist idiot on the other end. It’s different when police appear at your house in the dark hours before the dawn. It’s different when you have to explain to neighbors why fire trucks are clogging the street and people in hazmat suits are entering your front door. For that matter, it’s even different when it’s just an ordinary letter of criticism but it comes, not to your work address, but to the mailbox in front of your house.

Because when your public life comes uninvited into your private home, it represents an implicit and insidious threat above and beyond the immediate content. That threat says, we can reach you, even here in this place where you go to retreat from the world, even here, where you thought you were safe.

I share this so that you will understand how and why it resonated with me last week when protesters began descending upon the homes of conservative Supreme Court justices who, according to a leaked draft opinion, have voted to strike down Roe v. Wade. It confirmed in me a belief I’ve held for years: namely, that protesting at people’s homes — not counting homes that double as seats of government like a governor’s mansion or the White House — ought to be restricted.

Especially when we’re talking about the judiciary. Any democracy where justices deliberate under threat is unworthy of the name. So do I wish last week’s protests had not happened? Yes.

But you know what I wish even more? I wish people did not feel so desperate as to go to that extreme. I wish they thought they had other options. I wish this court had not been rendered disreputable and functionally illegitimate by the underhanded and politically-tainted means of its assemblage and I wish it were not poised to catapult this country back 50 years. I wish Mitch McConnell was not a sanctimonious liar and Susan Collins more gullible than Charlie Brown. I wish a national abortion ban were not a real possibility. I wish legal experts were not warning that the “reasoning” by which Roe will likely be overturned also opens the door to striking down previous rulings that sanctioned interracial and same-sex marriage.

And I wish we’d had a few more discussions about implicit threats when people were jostling and harassing vulnerable women outside abortion clinics. I wish we’d had them when dozens of bombings, shootings, beatings and arsons were committed by members of a compulsory birth movement that had the temerity — with media complicity — to misname itself “pro-life.”

Still, there is a small consolation in last week’s protests. At least the affected jurists will henceforth have one thing in common with women seeking abortions: Now they both know what it’s like to have their privacy invaded.

Yeah, it’s different when it’s your home.

But I bet it’s also no picnic when it’s your uterus.

Leonard Pitts Jr.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald. lpitts@miamiherald.com