You knew it was coming before it happened.

Days after the FBI executed a search warrant on former President Donald Trump’s Florida residence, the judge that approved that warrant began receiving death threats.

Just months after Supreme Court justices found themselves in a similar situation, someone posted the judge’s home address on websites and posted anti-Semitic slurs that resulted in his synagogue canceling Friday night services as a precaution.

“Threats against judges fulfilling their constitutional responsibilities strike at the very core of our democracy,” U.S. Second Circuit Judge Richard J. Sullivan, chair of the Judicial Conference Committee on Judicial Security, said in a statement issued recently in the aftermath of the search. “Judges should not have to fear retaliation for doing their jobs.”

When such threats emerge out of high-profile cases, they become national news. But death threats against judges, which sometimes lead to harassment, vandalism, and violence, are not limited to such happenings. According to the US Marshals Service, there were more than 4,500 “inappropriate communications” aimed at judges and court employees last year. Just eight years ago, that number was below 750.

What Changed?

The rules have changed. No longer do people feel compelled to contain discourse to peaceful protests, appeals, and legal methods. 

There are two sides to this political and cultural war, and both sides are living in a constant state of agitation, believing the nation is in serious danger, and can only be rescued if their side is in power. And they are willing to do whatever it takes to make that happen. If that means threatening a judge, police officer, elected official, or even a soccer mom, to see things their way, so be it.

In a recent AP article Barbara Lynn, chief judge for the northern district of Texas, reflected how it wasn’t long ago that “virtually everyone recognized how inappropriate it was to threaten the life or security of a judge because of a disagreement with the judge’s decision.” Today?  “I think there are a lot of people that don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.”

What Can Be Done?

Talking extremists out of extreme positions is nearly impossible. And arresting them after they break a law doesn’t help their intended victims. So the focus of the judicial community now is to take steps to prevent such threats, and subsequent attacks, from being carried out. That starts with keeping a judge's home address, phone number, and other personal information private.

Legislative help may be on the way in the form of the Daniel Anderl Bill, which would give judges the legal means to force websites to remove their private information. This protection is available now but only in eight states. The bill was named for the 20-year-old son of District Judge Esther Salas, who was killed in 2020 when a gunman came to their New Jersey home.

But even if the bill passes (which seems likely), it must then be enforced. And the US Marshals service does not have the resources to scan the internet on behalf of thousands of judges. Jurists can try to protect themselves individually, but the process is long, tiresome, and often frustrating. It is also an exercise that must be repeated frequently to identify new websites that provide or sell home addresses and to monitor those that may remove content once, only to put it back up a week or a month later.

Private companies have emerged to work with judges, as well as police officers, therapists, and other professionals in careers where threats are not uncommon. They have the tools and the technology to monitor the internet, find where their clients’ information is available, and make sure it is taken down. One company has already removed more than one million instances of such privacy violations online.

The Time to Act is Now

Judges must be able to rule on controversial issues without putting themselves or their families in danger. That is why it is imperative that their home addresses and phone numbers not be easily accessible or available for purchase from “people-finder” websites.

Every judge in this country is one decision away from unwanted notoriety. They should consider taking steps now to protect themselves and their families before that happens.

We Can Help

 

Ron Zayas

CEO & Chief Strategist

Ron brings decades of expertise in marketing, advertising and e-commerce strategies to 360Civic. There is not one aspect of any client project that is not enhanced through his experience, insight, and... Read more

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