More women are becoming judges these days, and that is a good thing. According to the National Association of Women Judges, more than one-third of all judges in America are now women, an increase from just 25% in 2008. And given the current administration’s prioritization on equity in hiring, that number should continue to rise.
This progress has, however, unfortunately coincided with a more disturbing trend – a significant rise in the number of serious threats leveled against judges, as well as prosecutors and court officials. The U.S. Marshals Service reports that such threats now number approximately 4,500 every year, when the number was around 900 less than a decade ago.
There is no perceived connection between these two trends. Political polarization, rising crime rates, and a deteriorating respect for our legal and moral institutions are all likely factors in the escalating threats. 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.”
While the Marshals do not disseminate threat data by gender, there is good reason to believe that women judges may be more susceptible to threats, as well as the harassment and violence that accompany them, than their male counterparts.
Attacks Have Already Occurred
The most recent high-profile attack against a judge occurred at the home of Judge Esther Salas. It was carried out by an anti-feminist lawyer named Roy Den Hollander, who published hundreds of misogynist rants online. Salas had presided over one of his cases. Den Hollander killed her son and shot her husband at the family residence. Esther Salas was in the basement at the time and was unharmed. Investigators later found a list in Den Hollander's rental car listing the names of three other female judges.
Similar tragedies have occurred against women judges in Illinois and Texas, and these happened before the number of threats received by the Marshals began to quadruple.
Among the thousands of jurists that have enrolled in our online privacy protection service, the percentage of women is higher than the national average of women judges, suggesting that they too are aware of this enhanced danger. And as courthouses invest more in security - both through personnel and technology – there is an increasing likelihood that those determined to carry out a threat will do so at a judge’s home, as happened in the Salas case.
Sadly, it has never been easier to plan and execute an attack given how easy it is to find anyone’s home address online with a simple five-minute Google search.
Is There a Solution?
Our IronWall360 online privacy protection service scans the Internet daily for sites that list or sell the home addresses and phone numbers of anyone under our protection. And then we contact those sites and make sure that content gets removed. Unlike our competitors, however, we don’t stop there; we search social media sites, independent websites and even sites created by people with axes to grind. We work to remove dangerous content from them all.
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.
What Needs to Happen?
Judges must be able to rule on controversial issues without putting themselves or their families in danger. The fact that more of those judges are women is great – but now courts need to step up and provide the level of security they deserve, not just on the bench but in their homes.
Every judge in this country is one decision away from unwanted notoriety. Your court needs to consider taking steps now to protect your judges and their families before that happens.
If you are considering online privacy protection for the first time, or if you or your organization is allegedly being protected by another company, we invite you to discover the difference in what we do vs. what others do. Send us your name and birth date to TryUs@360Civic.com. We’ll run a privacy report on you at no cost, and send you the results.
If you think you’re safe now, we believe you’re going to be surprised.