The No. 2 Senate Democrat is working to revive and expedite legislation aimed at protecting the private information of federal judges amid a sharp rise in violent threats.
“I think we can build bipartisan support for it,” Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill) told Bloomberg Government in an interview. “It’s a compelling issue.”
Durbin, who is both majority whip and Judiciary Committee chair, said he is working with lawmakers on a proposal that would keep private the addresses and other details about the nation’s nearly 900 federal judges.
New urgency on Capitol Hill comes amid heightened security concerns for public officials generally, and in response to the shooting death of a federal judge’s son at their home in New Jersey last year by a lawyer with a grudge against the jurist, Esther Salas.
“Just as it did for the legislative branch, the insurrection on the Capitol on January 6 raised some serious concerns about the safety and security of our hard working judges and staff, and physical needs in and outside the courtroom as we saw with the tragic shooting at the federal judge’s home,” Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government, said.
Quigley’s comments came Wednesday at a budget hearing where judiciary officials said in written testimony that they were thinking about new security steps in light of the Capitol insurrection that could include the installation of riot glass and magnetic door locks at courthouses.
Durbin and others have said the New Jersey shooting and another one in 2005 where the mother and husband of Judge Joan Lefkow were killed in their Chicago home demonstrate how certain information about judges shouldn’t be publicly accessible.
“A key issue for judges is the fact that their personally identifiable information is readily available on the internet, and we saw what can happen in tragic events—with respect to Judge Salas and her family—when that information can be accessed and indeed weaponized,” Roslynn R. Mauskopf, director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, said at the House hearing.
Salas said in a CBS “60 Minutes” interview that aired on Feb. 21 that authorities told her after her son, Daniel, was killed and husband seriously wounded in the July shooting that the gunman also appeared to be targeting Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
Salas has said threats against judges have escalated in recent years. Those against federal judges are tracked and investigated by the U.S. Marshals service.
Prospects appear better for the proposal now that Democrats control both houses of Congress and the White House.
Durbin, who also is a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said a measure would move faster if it is attached to another must-pass bill. He said he wouldn’t try to link it to the next coronavirus stimulus package but didn’t rule out other spending proposals. An emergency supplemental appropriations bill to address security concerns at the Capitol may be moving this spring, other lawmakers said.
“It should stand on its own merits, but scheduling and procedure suggests that if there’s a vehicle it may be quicker,” Durbin said.
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) tried previously to get the bill through the Senate but ran afoul of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who wanted to include language to keep lawmaker addresses private.
Paul, who also has received threats, was attacked at his home by a neighbor in 2017 over a dispute about their yards.
Menendez said he’s working with Durbin and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) on the bill and also said he expects this time lawmakers will take an expedited approach. Among the issues being addressed are concerns over disclosure rules.
“We do not have to disclose the addresses and public information on judges for them to be subject to public review but we’re working on that,” he said, adding that he hopes to work with the Justice Department on the final bill.
“We have been working with the Administrative Office of the Courts and the U.S. Marshals Service and have had their input into the legislation,” he said. “They are happy with the legislation as it is. I think that won’t be a problem.”
A companion bill was proposed last Congress in the House.
—With assistance from Madi Alder