May 11, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Congress considers increased security for Supreme Court justices

A reporter is seen outside the New Jersey home of a federal judge after her husband and son were shot by an attacker.
Reporters stand outside the home of U.S. District Judge Esther Salas in July 2020 after her son was shot and killed, and her husband wounded, by a man dressed as a delivery person. Photo: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

Congress has renewed its focus on security for federal judges and their families amid protests outside the homes of Supreme Court justices after the leak of a draft decision that would overturn Roe v. Wade.

Why it matters: Lawmakers in both parties have been trying to pass new safeguards for judges since a shooting at the New Jersey home of a federal judge in 2020 killed her son and wounded her husband.

  • U.S. District Judge Esther Salas has called for the passage of a judicial security bill introduced in response to the attack, which occurred while she was in the house.

Driving the news: The Senate on Monday unanimously passed a bill to extend around-the-clock Supreme Court Police protection to justices' families, a rare bipartisan move for a chamber habitually plagued by partisan gridlock.

  • The bill Salas has advocated, which passed the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously last year, could see movement on the Senate floor as soon as this week, a Democratic aide privy to planning discussions told Axios.
  • That legislation, introduced by Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), would create an avenue for judges to shield information, such as their home addresses and phone numbers, that could be used to track down and target them.
  • On Tuesday, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and ten of his Republican colleagues re-introduced a bill that would extend similar protections to all government officials.

What we're watching: Cotton has submitted his bill to be "hotlined" — or passed unanimously, to circumvent time-consuming floor procedures — Axios is told.

  • It's not clear whether any senators plan to object.
  • Cotton, one of the Senate's most vocal law enforcement hawks, also sent a letter to the Justice Department, obtained by Axios.
  • It questioned why federal agents haven't enforced a law prohibiting "pickets or parades" near the residence of a justice "with the intent of interfering with, obstructing or impeding the administration of justice."
  • Justice Department spokesman Anthony Coley said Wednesday that Attorney General Merrick Garland has directed the U.S. Marshals Service to provide "additional support" to the Marshal of the Supreme Court and Supreme Court Police.

State of play: In a twist, the House appears to be the major obstacle to bringing at least one of these bills to the president's desk.

  • According to a source familiar with the matter, the House Judiciary Committee has resisted advancing the version of the Booker and Menendez legislation proposed by Rep. Mikie Sherrill's (D-N.J.)
  • The source added that the plan to advance that legislation is to push to have it tied together with the Senate’s Supreme Court Police bill.
  • A spokesperson for Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, did not respond to a request for comment.

What they're saying: “For Congress to move a bill that would protect the Supreme Court, but ignore the pleas of Judge Salas and other stakeholders for judicial security, is a slap in the face to her, her family and every other member of the federal bench,” Sherrill told Axios in a statement.

  • Booker spokesperson Maya Krishna-Rogers said, "We think everyone in Congress can get behind common sense bipartisan legislation ... to help protect the privacy and safety of all federal judges and their families.”

But, but, but: Some top Democrats have dismissed the risk posed by protests outside Supreme Court justices' homes that have so far lacked any violence.

  • Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, asked during a press conference if he was comfortable with those demonstrations, said, "If protests are peaceful, yes. My house, there's protests 3-4 times a week outside my house."
  • Public servants across the country have also complained about their security since the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection and the heightened threats to election officials after Republican complaints about the 2020 election.
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