It seems some abortion rights activists are taking a page out of that playbook — though the first judge to publicly disrupt his dinner, not Samuel A. Alito Jr. was, but Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh, who exited Morton’s the Steakhouse in Washington Thursday night through a back entrance to avoid the crowd that had gathered outside the door, Politico said.
In a city that regularly draws sign-waving activists from across the country, restaurants in Washington — and even those far beyond the Beltway — have long faced protests, some even targeting individual diners. But many are bracing for more such incidents as protesters were angered by the roe decision – and made possible by social media organizing quickly – look to confront conservative judges at their homes and the restaurants where they dine.
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“The idea that business — any business — is somehow immune to what’s going on politically in the country has always irked me,” emailed Stephanie Wilkinson, the owner of Red Hen in Lexington, Virginia, a democratic stronghold in the middle of Trump country. Four years ago, Wilkinson had her own run-in with a polarizing public figure when Sarah Sanders, then President Donald Trump’s press secretary, was dining with her husband and others at Red Hen. Wilkinson politely asked Sanders to leave, an eviction that made the owner a hero among liberals and a villain among conservatives.
“When it comes to terrible events that will affect millions, no one should expect a restaurant to exist in some magical bubble,” Wilkinson wrote Friday from England, where her husband leads a study abroad program.
“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 impending rollback wave is dining, well, what can I tell you? It is still America, and the right to assemble and the right to speak still exist.”
A scenario similar to the one at Morton’s played out in 2018 (coincidentally, during Kavanaugh’s nomination hearings) when Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and his wife, Heidi, took a side exit at the elegant downtown Fiola restaurant to eat. escaping protesters chanting “We Believe Survivors,” a reference to Christine Blasey Ford, who testified that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her.
Kirstjen Nielsen, the then chief of Homeland Security, was harassed at luxury Mexican restaurant MXDC Cocina Mexicana in 2018 over family separations at the border. Days earlier, a fellow diner at Shaw’s Espita Mezcaleria had reportedly yelled at White House aide Stephen Miller, calling him a fascist.
The consequences of such public displays can be difficult for restaurants. After the Cruz story hit the headlines, Fiola’s social media accounts were attacked, phone lines were tied up, and people posted one-star reviews to the Yelp page. Owners Fabio and Maria Trabocchi said they and their employees were threatened both for failing to protect the Cruzes and for tipping protesters to the couple’s reservation. MXDC’s Yelp page was also flooded after Nielsen’s visit, with people leaving politically motivated reviews, which removed the online service.
The consequences for the Red Hen, a 26-seat restaurant, were arguably the worst: The phone line was hacked, the Yelp page was flooded with negative reviews, the owner and staff were sedated and threatened, the reservation system was overloaded with reservations. those guests were not going to honor.
“The fallout could last for years,” Wilkinson acknowledged in an email. “We still feel it, just over four years later. But here’s the thing: Fallout falls on both sides. Yes, we still have to deal with people who send us nasty letters and leave bad Yelp reviews. At the same time, we still greet guests who tell us that they have been waiting for years for the opportunity to come to our restaurant and eat with us. … And in many ways the support we received in the wake of the event four years ago has helped us through the most recent challenges of covid, inflation, etc.
Morton’s was mocked online Friday for his response to the Kavanaugh protesters. The steakhouse issued a statement to Politico condemning the protesters. “Honourable Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh and all of our other customers at the restaurant were unnecessarily harassed by unruly protesters while eating at our Morton’s restaurant,” it reads. “Politics, whatever your side or opinion, must not trample on the freedom of the right to gather and eat.”
Many commentators took advantage of the restaurant’s claims of the restaurant’s “rights,” with some jokingly pointing out that the constitution makes no mention of dinners or Morton’s, apparently mocking conservative originalists. Some noted that the Supreme Court has upheld the right to curb sidewalk protests, including those who harass women on their way to abortion clinics. The company’s Twitter account appeared to have disabled comments Friday morning and an “Unusual activity warning” was displayed on its Yelp page.
“This business has recently gained more public attention, which often means people come to this page to post their thoughts on the news,” the Yelp post reads. “While we are somehow not taking a stance on this incident, we have temporarily disabled the posting of content to this page while we investigate whether the content you see here reflects actual consumer experiences rather than recent events .”
Representatives of the chain, whose parent company is Landry’s, did not respond to a request for comment. Landry’s chief executive 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 properties for those who live, visit, or work in the city. As such, a business, such as a restaurant, cannot refuse service to anyone on the basis of party affiliation. Supreme Court justices have long maintained that they are impartial, even when appointed and confirmed under Democratic or Republican presidents. But the public and experts alike increasingly view the Supreme Court as a political branch of government.
While the Red Hen is not bound by DC law, Wilkinson said her decision to start Sanders was not based on party membership. She busted Sanders over a Trump administration decision the spokeswoman defended: to segregate families trying to cross the US border into Mexico.
“The Red Hen issue is often misinterpreted as an act against a person for being a Republican. It was not. It was a refusal by a specific person for a specific action or series of actions on her part. It’s a very different line of reasoning,” Wilkinson wrote.