The federal judiciary is getting an extra $41 million to beef up security as part of the $1.5 trillion measure recently passed by Congress. Part of the latest omnibus spending bill (H.R. 2471), the budget sets aside $704.8 million for court security. That’s an increase of around 6% from last year’s budget dedicated to addressing heightened concerns about judges’ safety.
Judiciary Requests More Security Funds
Last month, the United States Judicial Conference (the national policy-making body for the federal courts) sent a letter to lawmakers requesting $515.5 million in “emergency supplemental appropriations” as soon as possible to address urgent security needs in federal courts.
The U.S. Marshals Service, which is tasked with judicial security, released a report in 2021 stating that it lacked the resources it needed to respond to an 81% increase in “threats or inappropriate communications” against federal judges between 2016 and 2020. And just last month, the director of the U.S. Marshals said federal judges were the subjects of more than 4,500 threats in 2021.
The federal judiciary began its own independent efforts to improve security following the 2020 attack at the New Jersey home of U.S. District Judge Esther Salas that resulted in the death of the judge’s son. Measures announced in August and September 2020 included promises to advocate for legislation to enhance the protection of judges’ information online and improve security systems for judges’ homes.
Perhaps the best justification for the increase in funding comes from the judges themselves. “Our constitutional system depends on judges who can make decisions without fear of reprisal or retribution,” the Judicial Conference wrote to the Senate Appropriations Committee last year. “This is essential not just for the safety of judges and their families, but also to protect our democracy.”
What Will Funds Be Used For?
In their request, the Judicial Conference broke down their $515 million ask into two categories: $112.5 million for courthouse security and $403 million for “cybersecurity and I.T. modernization initiatives.” As far as physical security, the new budget includes enhanced security for federal courthouses, including security patrols, the inspection of mail and packages, and perimeter security. The focus on cybersecurity is aimed primarily at protecting judges’ personally identifiable information.
The plan approved by Congress includes funds for a program that would identify and remove judges’ personal information from the internet, including information about their families and where they live. Last December, the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously advanced a bill for such a program that would also prohibit data brokers from selling or trading judges’ personal information. However, the Daniel Anderl Judicial Security and Privacy Act (named for Judge Salas’s son) has not passed in Congress.
The current funding proposal is an important first step in making judges’ jobs safer, but without supporting legislation, it can only do so much. Hopefully, we’ll see related bills moving forward soon.