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Judges Seek Home Security Services Amid Increasing Threats

By Joseph Fawbush, Esq. | Last updated on

Threats against judges have doubled since 2021, according to Reuters. It is an alarming trend that has concerned U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Roberts, who mentioned it in his 2022 year-end report, and Congress, which heard testimony about judicial safety on February 14, 2024, from the U.S. Marshals Service.

The threats range from anonymous hate mail and menacing phone calls to direct physical confrontations. In extreme cases, judges and their families have been subjected to actual violence, sometimes with tragic consequences. Judges being threatened is not a new phenomenon, of course, but the increase in threats is still concerning.

The first place to point the finger is a decreased public perception of the neutrality of the judicial system, particularly for highly politicized cases involving the 2020 election and the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

But it shouldn't be overlooked that many attacks are also motivated by personal issues. Family law cases, in particular, have seen judges targeted and threatened outside the courtroom. Maryland Circuit Court Judge Andrew Wilkinson was shot last year by an angry father after he awarded full custody of the children to the man's ex-wife, for example.

Keeping Judges Safe

Courthouses already have robust security measures, including trained personnel, surveillance systems, and controlled access protocols. In criminal cases, defendants are often shackled in the courtroom, providing an extra level of safety. Usually, these measures are enough, but not always. For example, a recent attack on a judge in Las Vegas occurred in the courtroom despite significant security measures.

More alarming is the safety of judges in their homes. The protests outside of Justice Brett Kavanaugh's home garnered public attention and calls for arrests. In 2022, Nicholas Roske was arrested and charged with an attempted assassination of Justice Kavanaugh after he was found, armed, outside of his suburban, D.C., home.

For peaceful protestors, federal law prohibits picketing and parading with the intent of interfering or obstructing the administration of justice or with the intent of influencing a judge. However, there are significant First Amendment considerations in applying the law too broadly.

Federal Judges on Alert

Federal judges are clearly acknowledging the need for security. More than 70% of federal judges have opted into a program that provides for electronic security systems to detect home intrusions. The U.S. Marshals Service protects judges in their homes through its Judicial Security Division. This protection involves assessing and mitigating threats, implementing security measures, and providing round-the-clock security details when necessary.

The program has existed since 2005, but in 2021, a report by the U.S. Department of Justice's inspector general noted it was outdated. The U.S. Marshals Service has since said it has updated certain security measures but has not provided specifics, presumably to better protect judges.

In addition to the judiciary, members of Congress have also seen increased threats, with the Brennan Center for Justice reporting that more than 40% of state legislators have been threatened or attacked in the past three years.

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