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Three questions for one of the Supreme Court Dobbs protestors
"Our intent was to sound the alarm and remind American women of what is at stake," Emily Paterson told Law Dork of last week's protest inside the high court.
It’s Election Day.
Last week, on Nov. 2, just as Supreme Court arguments were beginning in a Bank Secrecy Act case, Emily Paterson, sitting in the public audience section of the courtroom, stood up and said a few words in protest of June’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision overturning Roe v. Wade. She was quickly taken out of the courtroom by law enforcement. Two others followed, and were similarly taken out of the courtroom without incident, as Amy Howe reported.
On the eve of the election, Paterson told me that the aim of their protest was “to sound the alarm and remind American women of what is at stake.”
“I respectfully rise to denounce Dobbs,” she told me that she said in the courtroom last week as a lawyer began his arguments in the banking case. “Women of America, vote.”
Supreme Court audio of the protest, which was cut off at one point, can be heard here. Paterson, a Virginia resident, spoke with me by phone Monday night about the protest and reactions to it.
Of the protest’s timing, she said the trio of protestors “didn’t want to accidentally distract from another big story that was happening,” noting last Monday’s cases over race-conscious admissions policies. “So we purposely chose kind of a less interesting to the public case about offshore banking.”
In defense of their protest, Paterson also pushed back against anyone who would compare their action to the Jan. 6 insurrection.
“I think there’s a big difference between peacefully exercising our First Amendment rights and intending to overthrow a national election,” she said. “It’s night and day. It’s apples and oranges. You can’t even compare the two actions.”
Paterson, who told me that she’d never engaged in civil disobedience before last week, spent the night in jail after her arrest and faces a court date on misdemeanor charges later this month.
Law Dork, with Chris Geidner, is independent, reader-supported journalism that seeks to hold government and other public officials accountable. Support this reporting by becoming a free or paid subscriber today.
Why did you decide to do this?
EMILY PATERSON: It was pretty grassroots. We all were finding out about it from different friends. And I think a lot of people were probably asked, and most people thought it was a bridge too far for them. And when I was asked, I sat with it for a long time. And I realized that we were likely to be arrested, likely to be held overnight. Huge implications.
But as I thought about it, I realized that I own my own company, I’m a white woman, upper middle class. My business partner was supportive, my husband was supportive. I felt like there would be fewer repercussions for me if I did get arrested. So, I felt like this was something that I could actually do.
[W]atching our democracy just kind of get dismantled over the last five or six years and then losing Roe last spring … I just felt like, “I have to live my values, this is my moment.” And it’s something that’s hard and it’s going to be uncomfortable, and it’s going to be way out of my comfort zone — like way, way, way out of my comfort zone — but because I’m able to do it, and because I’ve always thought that people have a responsibility to live their values and be ethical, I think I need to do this.
What do you say to people who compare this to Jan. 6?
PATERSON: To me it’s like a night and day kind of situation. We entered legally and lawfully with other members of the public. The Jan. 6 rioters broke into the US Capitol, through barricades of police and locked doors and were trespassing. We were not trespassing. That’s one thing.
The second thing is the intent. Our intent was to follow in a long and storied history of our country of peaceful protest and exercising our First Amendment rights. We were peaceful. The first thing I said — I said, 10 words. I was the first person to stand up of the three of us. And I said, “I respectfully rise to denounce Dobbs. Women of America, vote.” That’s what I said. And we were very careful in our words, as well, because we wanted people to know that we were nonviolent, we’re following in a long tradition of non-violent protest.
The Jan. 6 protesters were insurrectionists. Their intent was violent; our intent was peaceful. Their intent was to violently overthrow the United States elections, to stop the process. Our intent was not even to stop the oral arguments from happening in the Supreme Court. We deliberately did it at the beginning of the argument because we didn’t want to have the argument not happen. We didn’t want to disrupt the justices. We wanted to get our message out to American women to vote.
What is your feeling coming out of this — was it worth it?
PATERSON: I am very proud of what we did, I think I'll always be proud of what we did.
The idea is to alert people to the urgency of the fact that … the deepest decision we can ever make as a person probably is whether to reproduce or not. And that is at stake in the next election. So, our intent was to sound the alarm and remind American women of what is at stake. And I think we did that. I’ll always be proud of that.
That said, we did anticipate being arrested, we did anticipate being held overnight, but we did not anticipate how deplorable the conditions we would be held in would be.
It definitely opened my eyes to prison reform. I was really surprised that this cellblock that we’re in was in the middle of the nation’s Capitol. … So it opened my eyes to what everyone else who is pulled in for allegedly committing a crime is facing as well.
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