This week, members of the Idaho Supreme Court issued a statement claiming that they, their families, and their employees have been targeted with threats and harrassment: “when disagreement becomes personal, to the point of threats against personal safety and security … a line has been crossed.” Threats of violence are now commonplace for many state and federal judges. And all too frequently, real violence erupts with tragic consequences.
Congress passed legislation last year that would increase security for federal judges. And now a Republican legislator is proposing a bill that would make it easier for federal judges to arm themselves on their way in and out of the courthouse.
It’s a difficult policy question as to whether the security of judges and their families is enhanced by easing their own access to firearms. But plainly more needs to be done to build confidence that those in the judiciary are safe from threats of violence and harassment simply for doing their jobs.
The New Mexico House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed legislation that would impose criminal penalties on anyone who threatens a judge or the judge’s family members. The bill, which passed the House by a vote of 59-7, now heads to the state senate.
The proposed law would make it a misdemeanor to “doxx” any judge by sharing his or her personal information. Under the same law, it would be a fourth-degree felony to threaten a judge or the judge’s family with the intent of causing fear of great harm, disrupting the judge’s official duties, or retaliating for work done in court.
Some House members expressed concern that the bill criminalizes free speech. I am sympathetic to the concern that political speech be open, but the issue here is altogether different. Every ordered society limits the permissibility of threatening language. Here, threat to judges place a substantial risk of undermining the efficacy and legitimacy of the judicial system. Judges are prepared to have people upset with their decisions, but it is altogether different to ask them to serve when they are physically threatened.
We have seen too much of this behavior in recent years, including the recent threats to the young children of the judge in the Kyle Rittenhouse criminal trial. Criminalizing such malfeasance is long overdue.
Wisconsin judge Bruce Schroeder has drawn considerable attention for his handling of the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse, who is accused of killing two Antifa activists and wounding another during a riot in Kenosha, Wisconsin in August 2020.
For better or worse, judges in high-profile trials always come under the microscope. And some of Judge Schroeder’s behaviors during the trial have not inspire enormous confidence in his personal and professional discretion. But fair and reasonable scrunity is quickly being replaced by physical threats, and the threats here are extremely serious.
Judge Schroeder has received thousands of vile messages, many of them including explicit death threats. Some of those threats are targeted at his children, who are now receiving round-the-clock protection. However you feel about the substance of the Rittenhouse trial, these types of actions are completely unacceptable in civilized society. Let’s hope that each and every one of these goons faces his or her own day in court in the very near future.
The safety of female judges in Afghanistan was precarious even before the botched American pullout left the Afghani people at the mercy of the Taliban and ISIS. Now the situation is far worse. Immeasurably, sickeningly worse.
One small point of light has been the efforts of private individuals and entities to protect Afghanis and, to the degree possible, get them and their families out of the country and on to safer ground. This Washington Post story highlights one such effort, by judges across the globe, to secure safe passage for their female Afghani colleagues. Their limited success in no way eradicates the catastrophe that is unfolding, but it does give one a certain degree of faith in the human spirit.
Ha’aretz reports that Israel’s Courts Administration has been asking Google, Twitter, and other social media and search sites to scrub selected stories that appear to be critical of Israeli judges. While some of the stories are apparently incomplete or inaccurate, others appear to be straightforward mainstream media reports in which one or more judges is directly criticized for official actions. From the story:
“In some cases, the Courts Administration didn’t inform the relevant media outlets that it had requested an article’s removal. Moreover, it never informed the Justice Ministry that it was trying to remove such articles, and its legal adviser, Barak Lazer, did not mention this fact when he briefed the Knesset on the task force’s work in 2018.
The task force was formed by former Supreme Court President Asher Grunis due to an increase in online attacks on judges, particularly on social media. Its job was to ask social media companies to remove offensive posts. It also warned the people who wrote them that if the posts weren’t removed, the Courts Administration may take legal action against them.
A Courts Administration official said the task force contacts Google only if a judge complains; it doesn’t go looking for problematic content online. But a senior Justice Ministry official said that this did not make its conduct acceptable.”
No, it doesn’t. Wow.
No, it doesn’t.
In the wake of the horrific shooting of Judge Esther Salas’s son and husband at her New Jersey home last month, the Judicial Conference of the United States has resolved to seek aggressive legislation and funding to better protect federal judges and their families. The Judicial Conference’s press release, which lays out its proposals, is here.
Let’s hope that Congress acts quickly to provide the necessary resources.
Several sources are reporting that a gunman came to the home of U.S. District Judge Esther Salas yesterday, and shot her son and husband when they answered the door. Her son, age 20, was killed and her husband was badly injured. Judge Salas was apparently in the basement at the time and was not hurt. The gunman, who was apparently dressed as a delivery driver, is still at large.
The motive for the shooting is unknown, although Judge Salas has presided over some high profile criminal cases since taking the federal bench in 2010. Unfortunately, attacks on judges and their families have happened before.
This is very sick, terrible news to start the week.
Israeli Supreme Court Justice Anat Baron has been assigned additional security detail after receiving a death threat in the mail over the weekend. The letter apparently made veiled reference to Justice Baron’s son, who was killed by a suicide bomber in 2003.
This is grotesque and illegal behavior, and was immediately condemned by Israeli leaders including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. But Netanyahu himself has been accused of inciting this type of behavior, given his ongoing verbal attacks on the judiciary as he fights for his political life. The parallels to President Trump’s assaults on American judges are hard to ignore.
To be clear, neither Netanyahu nor Trump can possibly be said to wish physical harm to judges with whom they disagree. But rhetoric matters, and when politicians of any stripe wage war on the judiciary as part of their partisan battle plan, they do bear some responsibility for the collateral damage, both to judges’ reputations or (worse) to their physical well-being.
The global media is starting to report on a horrific incident that took place in a Thai courtroom at the beginning of October. Judge Khanakorn Pianchana had just announced the acquittal of five criminal defendants accused of murder when he grabbed a handgun and shot himself in the chest. In a 25-page document explaining his actions, Judge Khanakorn claimed that he had been under political pressure from the ruling authorities to convict the defendants of murder, even though the evidence against the defendants was insufficient and obtained primarily through improper interrogation and detention measures.
Judge Khanakorn survived the shooting and is now recuperating from his injuries. But the incident has shaken Thailand. One issue is why he would take such a drastic step as to attempt suicide in the courtroom. Khanakorn himself explained that he could not ethically convict the suspects without adequate proof, but he knew his career would be destroyed if he exonerated them. Others, however, have postulated that Judge Khanakorn is suffering from extreme depression and related issues that prompted him to try to take his own life.
In any event, it is a stunning incident, and a sad moment for the judge and for the administration of justice.
The Rio de Janiero State Court in Brazil will begin prosecuting corruption cases through special “faceless” courts designed to hide the identity of the presiding judges. It is the seventh Brazilian state to implement such a system. The change is coming after more than twenty judges received police protection from death threats by gangs and organized crime.
Under the new system, three judges will rotate every sixty days and all decisions will be signed by the principal judge. Variations of the system were used to protect judges in Colombia in the 1990s.
This is obviously an extreme development, and the safety of the judiciary must be taken seriously. But it comes at a serious cost — the accused will not be able to know the identity of, the very person who will be condemning them to prison (or worse). It’s a dark moment for everyone when due process must be diluted for the sake of judicial safety.