Attorney General Merrick Garland told a Senate panel on Wednesday that the threats to the safety of federal judges are a “dangerous problem” and a “serious threat” amid a rise in domestic extremism, while calling for more funding for judicial security.
Garland made the remarks in testimony before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies, in the context of the Justice Department’s fiscal year 2022 budget request.
The top two funding priorities for the Department of Justice (DOJ) are keeping the country and communities safe, and protecting civil rights and civil liberties, Garland said, with a key part of the first priority being combating foreign and domestic terrorism.
The 2022 budget request includes $1.5 billion, or 12 percent more than the 2021 enacted level, for DOJ efforts to counter international and domestic terrorism. Part of the funds are meant to support additional response capabilities at the U.S. Marshals Service, the agency responsible for judicial security.
At the hearing, Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) commented on the case of U.S. District Judge Esther Salas, whose son and husband were both shot at their home in July 2020 by a disgruntled attorney, Roy Den Hollander, who later took his own life. Salas’ son died from his injuries and her husband continues to recover.
Following the attack on Salas’ husband and son, the Judicial Security Committee of the Judicial Conference, on which Garland served for a number of years, convened an emergency meeting to consider enhancements to the physical security of federal judges. The committee recommended five security-related provisions, which two days later were approved by the Executive Committee of the Judicial Conference. Among the recommendations was seeking legislation to enhance the protection of judges’ personally identifiable information, particularly on the internet, as well as more funding for home security measures and for the U.S. Marshals Service.
Speaking about the “extraordinary threats that our federal judges face,” Moran noted this year’s budget request includes a program increase of $33.4 million to enhance judicial security programs.
Garland, who also chaired the Executive Committee of the Judicial Conference, said that that he had “delved very deeply into this problem with respect to judicial security, and it is a big problem, it is a dangerous problem.”
“And as we have a rise in domestic violent extremism, it is a serious threat. This amount of money, we believe, will enable us to upgrade the home security systems and to provide Marshals intelligence for better tracking threats against judges,” Garland said.
Moran responded by thanking Garland for his attention to the issue, saying, “judges need to be safe and secure, and the threats need to be addressed seriously, both protection and ultimate prosecution of perpetrators.”
“This is exactly right,” Garland said. “You can’t have a democracy with due process of law if judges are afraid to make the decisions.”
The 2022 budget proposal also contains $307.2 million in civil rights efforts, the other priority mentioned by Garland, representing an increase of $177.2 million over the 2021 enacted level.