A man armed with a handgun who planned to kill conservative US Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh was arrested near the justice’s home and has been charged with attempted murder after voicing distress about the expected reversal of a landmark decision legalising abortion nationwide, authorities said.
The man, identified as 26-year-old Nicholas John Roske of Simi Valley, California on Wednesday, was carrying a handgun he had purchased for the purpose of killing Kavanaugh as well as ammunition, a crowbar, pepper spray and other items, according to an affidavit signed by an FBI agent.
Roske also said he would kill himself, according to the document.
The US Attorney’s office in the district of Maryland filed charges of “attempted murder of a Supreme Court Justice” Wednesday, a statement from the office said.
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Roske had apparently taken a taxi to Kavanaugh’s residence, arriving at about 1:05am [5:05am GMT] Wednesday, saw US Marshalls and walked down the street. Shortly afterward, he called an emergency telephone number and “allegedly informed the call taker that he was having suicidal thoughts and had a firearm in his suitcase,” according to the statement by the attorney’s office. Roske was taken into custody soon after.
The criminal complaint “is not a finding of guilt”, the statement says.
The development comes amid intense polarisation in the United States over access to abortions. Abortion-rights supporters have held protests outside Kavanaugh’s home in Maryland and those of at least two other justices and rallied outside the courthouse since the May 2 publication of a leaked draft ruling showing that the court’s conservative majority was poised to overturn its landmark 1973 Roe v Wade decision that legalised abortion nationwide.
The draft opinion, authored by conservative Justice Samuel Alito and published by the Politico news outlet, would uphold a Mississippi law banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy and overturn the Roe decision that recognised a woman’s constitutional right to obtain an abortion.
Such a ruling would enable states to outlaw abortion, a goal of many Republican elected officials and religious conservatives. A decision is expected by the end of June or early July.
According to the Justice Department charge document, Roske was also upset about last month’s mass shooting at a school in Uvalde, Texas, and was concerned Kavanaugh will vote against gun regulations in another major upcoming ruling in a firearms rights case.
The Department of Justice said on May 11 that it was increasing security for Supreme Court justices following the leaked draft opinion. Attorney General Merrick Garland directed the US Marshals Service to provide additional support to the court’s existing police force, the department said.
The court building is now surrounded by high black fencing. A protester on Monday chained himself by the neck to that perimeter fence.
“Threats of violence and actual violence against the justices, of course, strike at the heart of our democracy,” Garland told reporters on Wednesday when asked about the arrest.
US President Joe Biden also condemned the incident on Wednesday, and thanked law enforcement officials for quickly taking the suspect into custody.
“As the president has consistently made clear, public officials, including judges, must be able to do their jobs without concern for their personal safety, or that of their families – and any violence or threats of violence or attempts to intimidate justices have no place in our society,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters from on board Air Force One.
Biden was en route to California, where he is expected to address regional leaders in the Summit of the Americas.
Kavanaugh, appointed by former President Donald Trump, has served on the court since 2018. Three appointees have been appointed by Trump, giving the court a 6-3 conservative majority.
In April, Ketanji Brown Jackson, 51, who was appointed by Biden, was confirmed to the Supreme Court. She is the first Black woman ever to serve on the court and will begin service at the beginning of the next term.
On Tuesday, the AP reported that the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has directed a memo to local government agencies warning that the looming Supreme Court decision could lead to violence from either extremist supporters – or opponents of abortion rights – depending on the outcome.
Abortion rights opponents have carried out at least 10 killings as well as dozens of arson and bomb attacks against medical facilities in their long campaign to overturn Roe v Wade.
DHS said there is also a potential for violence from those who support abortion rights, citing recent damage to buildings used by abortion opponents in Wisconsin and Oregon.
Last month, a poll conducted by Marquette University Law School found that public approval of the Supreme Court has fallen following the leak. According to the poll, 55 percent disapprove of the court, up from 45 percent in March.