Citing a growing danger to federal judges and courthouses, the Judicial Conference of the United States has asked the U.S. Senate to support a total of $182.5 million in supplemental funding to bolster security.
“There is an urgent need for immediate Congressional action to address the security of judges and federal courthouses,” said a June 7 letter (pdf) to the Senate Appropriations Committee. “Our constitutional system depends on judges who can 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.”
The letter was signed by Judge John W. Lungstrum, chair of the Judicial Conference’s Budget Committee, and Judge Roslynn R. Mauskopf, secretary to the Judicial Conference. It noted that judicial security funding is included in a House bill passed May 20, H.R. 3237, the “Emergency Security Supplemental to Respond to January 6th Appropriations Act.”
“This funding is needed for security improvements to ‘harden’ courthouses, for a security vulnerability program to increase judges’ safety, and to reimburse the Federal Protective Service (FPS) for upgrading aging exterior courthouse security cameras,” the letter said. “In addition, we strongly support the $25.0 million in H.R. 3237 for the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) for judicial security.”
In the past year, the Judiciary has been rocked by multiple attacks on personnel and court buildings.
In July 2020, the son of U.S. District Judge Esther Salas was murdered, and her husband gravely wounded, by a disgruntled litigant posing as a courier at their home in New Jersey. Also in 2020, security personnel were shot outside two courthouses, one fatally, and more than 50 courthouses were vandalized during public disturbances.
In addition to those attacks, the number of threats and inappropriate communications targeting judges and other personnel essential to court proceedings rose from 926 in 2015, to 4,261 in 2020, a 360 percent increase, according to the U.S. Marshals Service.
In December, Congress approved funding for the U.S. Marshals Service to modernize home security systems at judges’ personal residences, and to improve the Marshals Service’s ability to identify and investigate online threats against judges and court facilities.
The House legislation includes:
- $112.5 million in supplemental funding to harden the ground floors of 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.
“A comprehensive approach is required to address the growing violence and threats facing the Judiciary,” Lungstrum and Mauskopf wrote. “We ask the Appropriations Committee to provide the needed funding.”