The federal Judiciary has voiced its support for newly introduced legislation to protect federal judges, saying action by Congress is needed to prevent tragedies like the one a year ago when the son of a judge in New Jersey was shot and killed by a disgruntled litigant.
The Daniel Anderl Judicial Security and Privacy Act, named for the son of U.S. District Judge Esther Salas, is a narrowly tailored bill that would protect judges’ personally identifiable information in federal databases and restrict data aggregators from reselling judges’ personal information. Currently, this information often is available at little or no cost.
The bipartisan legislation was introduced in the Senate today by New Jersey Democratic Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker. Additional cosponsors include Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-IL), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and John Kennedy (R-LA). Representatives Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ) and Brian K. Fitzpatrick (R-PA) are sponsors of a companion bill in the House of Representatives.
“Our constitutional system depends on an independent Judiciary,” said Judge Roslynn R. Mauskopf, director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. “Judges must be able to make decisions without fear of reprisal or retribution. This is essential not just for the safety of judges and their families, but also to protect our democracy.”
According to the U.S. Marshals Service, there has been a sharp rise in threats and inappropriate communications against federal judges and other essential court personnel, from 926 incidents in 2015 to 4,261 in 2020.
Some cases have involved litigants angered by a judge’s decision in their case. Judges handling controversial cases also have seen their home addresses circulated on social media.
Salas’ son was murdered July 19, 2020, by a disgruntled lawyer who came to her house posing as a delivery courier. The lawyer, angered by the judge’s handling of his lawsuit, acquired her address, and photos of her home and vehicles, on the internet.
“Our unique position exposes us to great danger,” said Salas, who serves in the District of New Jersey’s Newark courthouse. “Judges understand that we must make tough decisions, but something must be done to address these very real threats. This legislation is personal for me, but, if passed, will benefit every federal judge in the country.”
Similar bipartisan bills were introduced in the House and Senate in September but were unable to gain approval before Congress adjourned in December 2020.
The proposed legislation is “narrowly tailored to address a compelling government interest,” Mauskopf said. “It does not limit public access to judges’ decisions or opinions but seeks only to protect personal information that can be used to target judges and their families where they are most vulnerable.”
Since 1979, four federal judges have been murdered. In two other cases, including the fatal shooting of Salas’ son, relatives were murdered during attacks that targeted federal judges in their homes.
The legislation to remove federal judges’ personally identifiable information from the internet is one of several Judiciary initiatives requested of Congress to improve security for federal judges and courthouses.
In December, Congress approved funding to modernize home security systems installed in judges’ homes. And a June 7 letter to Congress voiced support for judicial security funding included in H.R. 3237, the Emergency Security Supplemental to Respond to January 6th Appropriations Act, which the House approved on May 20. That bill includes:
- $112.5 million in supplemental funding to harden federal courthouses against external attack;
- $10 million for a “security vulnerability program to proactively identify active and potential threats against Judiciary facilities and judges and their families”;
- and $35 million to reimburse the Federal Protective Service to upgrade aging exterior perimeter security cameras at 36 locations.
The Judiciary also is recommending funding for the U.S. Marshals Service to hire 1,000 additional deputy marshals, in alignment with USMS staffing formulas.