On Tuesday, April 9, 2024, Bloomberg Law reported that federal judges were holding discussions on how to address the growing threats facing the judiciary.

According to the article, judges across the country have noticed an increase in threats and attacks targeting both themselves and their families. Chief Judge James Boasberg of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia acknowledged judges were aware of and conversing about both the threats as well as the best ways to respond publicly or otherwise. However, he noted navigating an appropriate response presents difficulties given rules around impartiality and remaining above political matters.

One such response came from Senior U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton, who broke with tradition in March by giving an interview to CNN about his concerns over rising threats to federal jurists and their loved ones. His comments came after former President Donald Trump criticized the daughter of Judge Jenna Sommer Rix, overseeing one of his criminal trials, on social media. Judge Edward Davila of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit endorsed Walton’s choice to bring the issue to public attention.

Other judges said Walton’s actions may open the door for more spoken responses from the bench. Former Fourth Circuit judge J. Michael Luttig called it a “break the glass” moment that could encourage others to defend the rule of law when attacked. However, some like Davila acknowledged the difficulty of weighing in on policy issues while maintaining impartiality. Former Maryland district court judge Paul Grimm believes Walton and some others feel compelled to speak out given the present “critical inflection point” for the country.

The article detailed rising incident numbers, including the 2020 shooting of the son and husband of Judge Esther Salas after a gunman appeared at their New Jersey home. It noted how the January 6th riot cases before judges in Washington D.C. have led to new security worries. While legal experts said Wallton’s statements did not violate ethics, conservative groups have filed complaints accusing judges of opposing pending cases by criticizing Trump. Some legal organizations have issued releases in support of judges but emphasizing the restraints on direct responses from the bench.

As threats mount, the piece closed with judges internally debating how to balance personal safety with judicial norms of neutrality when responding to politicized intimidation targeting their branch. The discussions show judiciaries adapting to defend their ability to fairly adjudicate cases during polarized times.

 

 

Source: Bloomberg Law