Congress needs to enact legislation and provide funding to ensure the safety of our judges
A free, fair and unbiased judiciary is essential to the rule of law and a properly functioning democracy. But judges cannot do their jobs effectively if they are under attack or feel their families are being threatened.
The ready availability of judges’ personal information on the internet and the ease with which such information can be shared through social media puts our judges at risk every time they issue a decision that may be controversial or unpopular.
The threat is all too real. In July 2020, a gunman impersonating a delivery driver arrived at the home of Esther Salas, a judge for the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, killing her 20-year-old son, Daniel Anderl, and critically wounding her husband, Mark Anderl.
The gunman—a self-described “men’s rights lawyer”—had apparently targeted Judge Salas for her handling of a case he had brought challenging the all-male draft and had plans to target other judges as well, including the chief judge of the New York Court of Appeals.
The gunman was able to obtain Judge Salas’ home address and other personal information through public online directories.
The attack on Judge Salas’ family is, unfortunately, one in a long line of instances in which judicial officers have been targeted at their homes.
In 2015, a gunman shot Julie Kocurek, a judge in Travis County, Texas, for presiding over his criminal trial. In 2005, a dissatisfied litigant arrived at the home of Joan Lefkow, a judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, and fatally shot her husband and mother.
And in just the first part of this year, an armed man who said he wanted to kill U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh was arrested June 8 outside the justice’s Maryland home and charged with attempted murder. Five days earlier, retired Wisconsin Judge John Roemer was shot to death in his home by a man whom he had sentenced to prison over a decade ago. In both cases, the men obtained the addresses of their targets on the internet.
Threats against federal judges and court officials are rising fast. They quadrupled from 2015 to 2019, according to the U.S. Marshals Service. In 2021, federal judges and court personnel received more than 4,500 threats and inappropriate communications.
In response to the Kavanaugh threat, Congress quickly passed legislation extending police protection to the immediate families of Supreme Court justices. President Joe Biden signed it on June 16.
But unfortunately, Congress has not yet passed the bipartisan legislation named for Judge Salas’ son: the Daniel Anderl Judicial Security and Privacy Act. The law would restrict online access to federal judges’ personal information, give federal marshals more resources to assess and track threats against judges, and fund improved security devices for judges’ homes.
The ABA has supported and advocated for this legislation, even lobbying for it during ABA Day this year. And the threats are only getting worse. In 2020, a survey of 572 judges by the National Judicial College found that 84% of judges felt security for their families is inadequate, with a majority citing their home address and other personal information being too easily accessible through public records.
Congress needs to pass the Anderl Act and look at increased funding and other legislation to ensure the safety of all of our judges.
This issue is just one of many that affects the legal profession and our country. As my term as ABA president comes to an end, I feel honored to have been able to address some of these matters and thankful for all the work and support that our wonderful members have provided. As I prepare to pass the gavel to Deborah Enix-Ross, I am confident that the association will continue to flourish under her leadership and carry out its mission of improving life for lawyers.
Follow President Turner on Twitter @ABAPresident or email [email protected].
This story was originally published in the August/September 2022 issue of the ABA Journal under the headline: “The Dire Need for Judicial Security: Congress needs to enact legislation and provide funding to ensure the safety of our judges.”