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Congress Urged to Adopt Judicial Security Measures

Citing the recent fatal attack at the home of a federal judge in New Jersey and increasing threats against federal judges, the Judiciary has asked Congress to enact a package of safety measures that would improve security at judges’ homes and at federal courthouses.

Separate letters were sent Sept. 4 by Judge David W. McKeague, chair of the Judiciary’s Committee on Judicial Security, and James C. Duff, secretary of the Judicial Conference of the United States. The House and Senate Appropriations committees were asked to fund three security upgrades, while the House and Senate Judiciary committees were asked to approve additional safety measures.

“We ask for your prompt attention to these urgent funding requests,” McKeague and Duff wrote to the House and Senate Appropriations committees. “Threats against federal judges are increasing and it is imperative that the Judicial Branch and Legislative Branch work together to take action to prevent another tragedy involving judges and their families.”

On July 19, a gunman posing as a delivery courier rang the doorbell at the home of Judge Esther Salas, of the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey. He fatally shot her 20-year-old son, who opened the door, and seriously wounded her husband.

House and Senate appropriators were asked to approve:  

  • A one-time appropriation of $7.2 million for the U.S. Marshals Service to install modern home intrusion security systems in judges’ homes, and $2 million annually to keep the systems current. The existing government-funded alarm systems are badly outdated, lacking any video capabilities to identify who is on a judge’s property.
  • Increased appropriations for the U.S. Marshals Service to hire 1,000 additional Deputy U.S. Marshals in accordance with the District Staffing Model.
  • A one-time direct appropriation to the Federal Protective Service of $267 million to replace and upgrade exterior perimeter security cameras at 650 U.S. courthouses and federal buildings that house judicial activities.

The House and Senate Judiciary committees were asked to approve additional safety measures that would:

  • Better prevent the unauthorized release of judges’ personally identifiable information, particularly on the internet, including restrictions on posting or sharing judges’ personal information by private or public entities.
  • Give federal judges permanent authority to redact personally identifiable information from financial disclosure reports.

Details on each initiative have been provided to the House and Senate Judiciary committees and Appropriations committees, as well as their appropriate subcommittees.

The Judicial Conference of the United States, which sets policy for the federal Judiciary, also supports “development of a resource to monitor the public availability of judges’ [personally identifiable information], inform judges of security vulnerabilities created by this information, and where necessary, advise the appropriate law enforcement of an inappropriate communication,” the House and Senate Judiciary committees were told.

The letters to the House and Senate Judiciary committees noted that four federal judges have been murdered since 1979: District Judge John Wood (1979), District Judge Richard Daronco (1988), Circuit Judge Robert Vance (1989), and District Judge John Roll (2011). In addition, District Judge Joan Lefkow found her mother and husband murdered in their Chicago home in 2005.

Noting the attack on Judge Salas’s family, McKeague and Duff wrote, “Unfortunately, too many others in our judicial family have experienced similar tragedy and grief. … [T]hreats have greatly multiplied over the past five years and require immediate legislative action to enhance security protections.”

In an impassioned public plea two weeks after the shootings, Salas urged that personal identifiable information about federal judges be removed from the Internet, saying it was too easy for people angry at the courts or individual judges to find residential and other personal information.  

“We know that our job requires us to make tough calls, and sometimes those calls can leave people angry and upset,” Salas said. “But what we cannot accept is when we are forced to live in fear for our lives because personal information, like our home addresses, can easily be obtained by anyone seeking to do us or our families harm.”

Related Topics: Legislation, Security