Federal Courts Urge Congress, White House to Provide More Protection for Judges
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Worried after recent attacks, federal judges on Wednesday urged Congress to provide more protection, including $12 million for security systems in most of their homes.
"Unfortunately, at the present time federal judges across the country are feeling particularly vulnerable, not only for themselves, but also for their families," said a letter from the Judicial Conference of the United States, the court's policy-making board led by Chief Justice William Rehnquist.
The request follows the murder in February of a federal judge's family in Chicago, the courtroom shooting deaths in Atlanta in March and emotional comments from some critics after judges refused to order the reinsertion of Terri Schiavo's feeding tube.
Democrats said Congress should approve the judges' request. "It's ironic that judges who are guardians of our rights are subject to violence, and we ought to do everything we can to protect them," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. "This is a reasonable request that I hope every senator will be for."
Republicans have been criticized for some of their statements about the federal courts after the Schiavo decision. "The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior," said House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, raising the prospect of impeachment.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said this week he wonders if frustration against perceived political decisions by judges "builds up and builds up to the point where some people engage in violence, certainly without any justification."
Cornyn later said his remarks had nothing to do with the Schiavo case or with what DeLay said. "There is no possible justification for courthouse violence," the senator said.
The judges' letter to President Bush and Congress, which sets the federal court's budget, was written by the conference's administrative director, Leonidas Ralph Mecham.
"Often, when a judge makes a decision in a case, even though it faithfully follows federal law, that judge is subject to harsh, sometimes vicious, criticism," Mecham said. "The Judicial Conference wants to ensure that this criticism does not result in physical harm to judges and their families."
Judges themselves now must pay for internal security at their homes, Judge Jane Roth of the Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said last month. She heads the conference's committee on security and facilities.
It was not immediately known whether the government pays internal home security for the Supreme Court, which is not included in the conference's request.
There are more than 1,800 active and semiretired judges and magistrates in the federal court system, court officials said.
The judges, in their said, said they also want more money for the U.S. marshals, who provide their security; more marshals assigned to courtroom duty during criminal proceedings; and more people hired for the marshal's threat assessment office, which has three employees.
In the Chicago killings, an unemployed electrician committed suicide after breaking into U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow's home and fatally shooting her husband and mother. A suicide note contained a hit list of seven federal judges and four state judges, newspaper reports say.
On Wednesday, white supremacist Matthew Hale was sentenced Wednesday to 40 years prison for soliciting an undercover FBI informant to kill Lefkow in retaliation for her ruling against him in a trademark dispute.
In Atlanta, a state judge, a court reporter, a sheriff's deputy and a federal agent were killed after an unshackled man being escorted to court for a rape trial allegedly stole a deputy's gun, opened fire and then fled.
Judges "believe that attacks such as these strike at the core of our system of government and steps should be taken as soon as possible to preclude them from happening again in the future," Mecham said.
Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.