Federal judiciary supports legislation to prevent access to judges' information

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In the wake of increased threats and attacks, the federal judiciary is supporting legislation that would protect judges’ personal information in federal databases and restrict data aggregators from reselling that information.

The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts on Wednesday confirmed the need for the Daniel Anderl Judicial Security and Privacy Act, named for the 20-year-old son of Judge Esther Salas of the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey. He was killed on July 19, 2020, by a disgruntled lawyer who went to Salas’ home after acquiring her address on the internet.

“Our constitutional system depends on an independent Judiciary,” Judge Roslynn R. Mauskopf, the director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, said in the statement. “Judges must be able to 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.”

Sen. Robert Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, attempted to pass similar legislation in December, but according to NJ.com, Sen. Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky, prevented its consideration. At the time, Paul asked that legislation include similar protection for lawmakers.

Menendez and Sen. Cory Booker, also a Democrat from New Jersey, reintroduced the bill in the Senate Wednesday. Rep. Mikie Sherrill, a Democrat from New Jersey as well, and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, a Republican from Pennsylvania, are sponsoring a companion bill in the House of Representatives.

Federal judges and other court personnel have reported a drastic increase in threats and inappropriate communications, from 926 incidents in 2015 to 4,261 in 2020, according to data from the U.S. Marshals Service cited by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.

Four federal judges have been murdered since 1979, and in two other cases, including Salas’, relatives were killed during attacks at their homes. In addition, Salas’ husband, Mark Anderl, was wounded in the attack at their home.

“Our unique position exposes us to great danger,” said Salas, who joined the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts in supporting the legislation. “Judges understand that we must make tough decisions, but something must be done to address these very real threats.”

She added, “This legislation is personal for me, but, if passed, will benefit every federal judge in the country.”

But the proposed legislation is “narrowly tailored,” Mauskopf pointed out.

“It does not limit public access to judges’ decisions or opinions but seeks only to protect personal information that can be used to target judges and their families where they are most vulnerable,” she said in the statement.

In response to previous requests by the judiciary to improve security, Congress approved funding in December for the U.S. Marshals Service to modernize home security systems at judges’ homes and to improve its ability to identify online threats against judges and court facilities.

The Judicial Conference of the United States also asked the U.S. Senate in June to support a total of $182.5 million in supplemental funding to strengthen judicial security measures.

See also:

ABA Journal: “An attack on a judge’s family is putting judicial security center stage”

ABA Journal: “ABA urges Congress to prioritize judicial security amid recent attacks on judge and court officer”

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