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Judiciary Steps Up Calls to Enact Security Measures

Citing the latest act of violence this year, in which a judge's family and officers at two federal courthouses have come under attack, the Judiciary has stepped up its call to congressional leaders for a series of safety measures “to protect the safety of the public at our nation’s courthouses.”

A letter from James C. Duff, secretary of the Judicial Conference of the United States, cited a Sept. 15 non-fatal shooting of a court security officer outside the federal courthouse in Phoenix, Arizona. On July 19, a gunman attacked the New Jersey home of U.S. District Judge Esther Salas, killing her son and gravely wounding her husband. On May 29, a Federal Protective Service officer was fatally shot outside a federal courthouse in Oakland, California.

“This pattern of violence against the Judiciary, at home and at work, underscores the imperative for immediate congressional action to address the critical security needs of federal judges and Judiciary employees across the country,” Duff wrote.

The Sept. 21 letter was sent to Mitch McConnell, Senate majority leader; Charles “Chuck” Schumer, Senate minority leader; Steny Hoyer, House majority leader; and Kevin McCarthy, House minority leader.

In two letters sent Sept. 4, Duff and Judge David W. McKeague, chair of the Judicial Conference’s Committee on Judicial Security, urged Congress to approve and fund safety measures to prevent violence targeting judges and federal courthouses.

A letter to the House and Senate appropriations committees requested funding totaling $524 million for the U.S. Marshals Service to install modern home intrusion detection systems in judges’ homes and to hire 1,000 additional deputy U.S. marshals; and for the Federal Protective Service to upgrade exterior security cameras at court facilities nationwide.

The Judiciary committees were asked to support a law restricting the dissemination of personally identifiable information that can reveal where judges live and providing permanent authority for judges to redact certain personal information from financial disclosure reports.

The Judiciary also is developing a proposal to monitor the internet for personal information and online threats that could expose judges and their families to danger.

Congress appropriated money to bolster home security for federal judges in 2005, after U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow found her husband and elderly mother murdered in their Chicago home. Home intrusion alarms purchased for federal judges at that time are now outdated, the Judiciary has informed Congress. Similarly, cameras operated by the Federal Protective Service are not adequate to monitor threats outside courthouses.

Since 1979, four federal judges and three family members have been murdered in attacks apparently targeting judges. The number of identified threats and inappropriate communications directed at judges has risen from 926 in fiscal year 2015 to 4,449 in fiscal year 2019, according to the U.S. Marshals Service.

“We implore Congress to act swiftly on these requests,” Duff wrote in his Sept. 21 letter, adding that the Judiciary “is prepared to work with the Congress, Executive Branch, and any other party to preserve, protect, and defend the Third Branch.”