Members of the Judicial Conference of the United States are urging the U.S. Senate to support $182.5 million in supplemental funding to bolster security for the country’s judiciary, citing the growing danger to federal judges and courthouses.
A letter signed by Kansas Judge John W. Lungstrum, chair of the Judicial Conference’s Budget Committee, and New York Judge Roslynn R. Mauskopf, secretary to the Judicial Conference, cites an “urgent need” for immediate congressional action to address the security of the judiciary.
It also noted a House bill passed May 20, H.R. 3237, that included judicial security funding.
“This funding is needed for security improvements to ‘harden’ courthouses, for a security vulnerability program to increase judges’ safety, and to reimburse the Federal Protective Service for upgrading aging exterior courthouse security cameras,” the letter states. “In addition, we strongly support the $25.0 million in H.R. 3237 for the U.S. Marshals Service … for judicial security.”
Safety concerns stem from mounting fear after multiple attacks on personnel and court buildings took place last year. In July 2020, a self-described “anti-feminist” lawyer who posed as a FedEx deliveryman to gain access to the home of U.S. District Judge Esther Salas murdered her son and critically wounded her husband at the front door of the residence.
Another instance left an FPS guard shot dead in May 2020 outside the federal courthouse in Oakland, California, while a court security officer was similarly shot and wounded in September 2020 outside the federal courthouse in Phoenix.
“And more than 50 federal courthouses sustained damage during public disturbances and other violent incidents occurring at or near federal courthouses in 2020,” the letter says, noting that the threat to federal courts is “getting worse.”
The number of threats and inappropriate communications targeting judges and other personnel essential to court proceedings rose 360% from 926 in 2015, to 4,261 in 2020, according to the U.S. Marshals Service.
“Our constitutional system depends on judges who can 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,” the letter says.
The Judicial Conference contends that a comprehensive approach is required to address the growing threats and violence, which includes authorizing legislation and increased appropriations for the judiciary, USMS and FPS.
The House legislation includes $112.5 million in supplemental funding to harden the ground floors of federal courthouses against external attack; $10 million for a “security vulnerability program to proactively identify active and potential threats against Judiciary facilities and judges and their families”; and $35 million to reimburse the Federal Protective Service to upgrade aging exterior perimeter security cameras at 36 locations.
The Judicial Conference’s full letter can be read online.