It seems some abortion rights activists are taking a page from this playbook — though the first judge whose dinner was publicly disturbed wasn’t Samuel A. Alito Jr. but Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh, who left Morton’s the Steakhouse in Washington Thursday night through a back entrance to avoid the crowd Politico said had gathered outside the door.
In a city that regularly attracts activists with signs from across the country, restaurants in Washington — and even those far outside the Beltway — have long grappled with protests, some even focused on individual diners. But many are bracing for more such incidents as protesters are angered roe Decision – and made possible by quick organizing on social media – seek to confront conservative judges in their homes and in the restaurants where they dine.
Supreme Court Marshal urges Md., Virginia leaders to halt protests at home
“The notion that corporations — any corporation — are somehow immune to the politics of the country has always struck me as ridiculous,” wrote Stephanie Wilkinson, owner of Red Hen in Lexington, Virginia, a Democratic stronghold in the heart of Trump country. Four years ago, Wilkinson had her own encounter with a polarizing public figure when Sarah Sanders, President Donald Trump’s press secretary at the time, had dinner with her husband and others at the Red Hen. Wilkinson politely asked Sanders to leave, a sacking that made the owner a hero among liberals and a villain among conservatives.
“When it comes to horrific events affecting millions, no one should expect a restaurant to exist in a magic bubble,” Wilkinson wrote on Friday from England, where her husband runs a study abroad programme.
“Anyone who works in a restaurant or runs a restaurant knows that many Americans are scared and angry about recent events and feel compelled to get up and shout about it in the street,” Wilkinson continued. “If that street happens to be the sidewalk in front of your restaurant where one of the architects of the looming wave of rights revocations dines, well what can I tell you? It is still America, and the right to assembly and the right to speak still exist.”
A similar scenario to Morton’s played out in 2018 (coincidentally during Kavanaugh’s nomination hearings) when Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and his wife Heidi took a side exit at the swanky downtown Fiola restaurant to escape protesters, chanting, ” We believe survivors,” a reference to Christine Blasey Ford, who testified that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her.
Then-Homeland Security chief Kirstjen Nielsen was harassed at upscale Mexican restaurant MXDC Cocina Mexicana in 2018 over family separations at the border. Days earlier, a fellow guest at Shaw’s Espita Mezcaleria reportedly yelled at White House aide Stephen Miller and called him a fascist.
The consequences of such public displays can be severe for restaurants. After Cruz’s story made headlines, Fiola’s social media accounts were attacked, phone lines were blocked, and people posted one-star reviews on the Yelp site. Owners Fabio and Maria Trabocchi said they and their employees have been threatened for failing to protect the Cruzes and allegedly alerted protesters to the couple’s reservation. MXDC’s Yelp page was also inundated after Nielsen’s visit, with people leaving politically motivated reviews, which the service removed.
The consequences for the Red Hen, a 26-seat restaurant, were perhaps worst: its phone line was hacked, its Yelp page was flooded with negative reviews, its owner and staff were threatened and threatened, its booking system was overloaded with reservations, which the guests did not intend to honor.
“The fallout can last for years,” Wilkinson confirmed in an email. “We still feel it, a little over four years later. But here’s the thing: Fallout falls on both sides. Yes, we still have to put up with people sending us angry letters and leaving bad Yelp reviews. At the same time, we still welcome guests who tell us that they have been waiting for the opportunity to come to our restaurant and dine with us for years. … And in many ways the support we received after the event four years ago has gotten us through the recent challenges of Covid, inflation etc.”
Morton’s was mocked online earlier Friday for its response to the Kavanaugh protesters. The steakhouse released a statement to Politico condemning the protesters. “The Honorable Justice of the Supreme Court Kavanaugh and all of our other diners in the restaurant were unduly harassed by unruly protesters while having dinner at our Morton restaurant,” it said. “Politics, regardless of your side or your views, should not trample on the freedom of the right to assemble and have dinner.”
Many commentators echoed the restaurant’s claims about diners’ “rights,” with some jokingly pointing out that the Constitution mentions nothing about dinners or Morton’s, apparently mocking conservative originalists. Some noted that the Supreme Court has upheld the right to sidewalk protests, including those harassing women on their way to abortion clinics. The company’s Twitter account appeared to have disabled comments as of Friday morning, and its Yelp page posted an “alert for unusual activity.”
“This business has received increased publicity lately, which often means people come to this site to post their thoughts on the news,” the Yelp statement said. “While we are not taking a position on this incident one way or the other, we have temporarily disabled the posting of content on this page while we work to investigate whether the content you are seeing here represents more of an actual consumer experience reflect than recent events.”
Officials from the chain, of which Landry’s is its parent, did not respond to a request for comment. Landry’s CEO is billionaire Tilman Fertitta, who stars on CNBC’s “Billion Dollar Buyer,” and whom Trump has called a “friend.” The Supreme Court media office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In DC, political affiliation is one of 21 protected characteristics for those who live, visit, or work in the city. Therefore, a company such as B. a restaurant, not serve anyone because of their party affiliation. Supreme Court justices have long insisted that they are impartial, even when appointed and confirmed under Democratic or Republican presidents. But both the public and pundits are increasingly viewing the Supreme Court as a political organ of government.
Though the Red Hen isn’t bound by DC laws, Wilkinson said her decision to boot Sanders wasn’t based on party affiliation. She booted Sanders over a Trump administration decision the spokeswoman defended: to separate families trying to cross the US-Mexico border.
“The Red Hen issue is often misconstrued as an act against a person for being a Republican. It was not. It was a rejection of a specific person for a specific action or series of actions on their part. It’s a very different rationale,” Wilkinson wrote.