Judges want more security funds to protect courthouses from rioters

Supplemental request comes as courts prepare to hear cases related to Jan. 6 insurrection

Trump supporters stand on a Capitol Police armored vehicle as others take over the steps of the Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6.  (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Trump supporters stand on a Capitol Police armored vehicle as others take over the steps of the Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted March 16, 2021 at 4:36pm

The federal courts have asked Congress for funds to prevent angry mobs from overrunning courthouses, as well as counter threats to judges and courthouses related to criminal cases from the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol.

The request comes after a year of civil unrest that resulted in damage to 54 courthouses, including fires, broken windows and vandalism during a sustained attack on the federal courthouse in Portland. A gunman attacked a judge’s New Jersey home in July.

And now the Judicial Conference of the United States, the policymaking body for the federal court system, also points to the threat revealed when a Trump-inspired mob attacked the Capitol.

U.S. District Judge Claire Eagan told reporters Tuesday that the supplemental funds for fiscal 2021 would go to “harden the entrances and first-floor windows of federal courthouses, nationwide, to prevent from being overrun by an angry mob like happened at the Capitol.”

The $112.5 million cost for that initiative would allow deputy marshals “to seal up doors and windows as necessary in the event of an attack,” Eagan, the chair of the executive committee of the Judicial Conference, said.

The funds would go toward a physical security assessment of approximately 450 primary federal courthouses, and an upgrade to “perimeter security systems and equipment to withstand a hostile incursion," according to a request sent from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts to congressional staff last month.

The courts also asked for $10 million for staff and automated tools to “proactively manage security vulnerabilities” and to “address increasing threats against federal judges, their families, and federal court facilities, including threats tied to the pending criminal cases associated with the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.”

That would be in addition to $10 million funding the U.S. Marshals Service in fiscal 2021, for a nationwide program to monitor the internet and dark web for threats.

The courts also have renewed a request for $267 million for the Federal Protective Service to upgrade exterior perimeter security camera systems that agency manages at 650 facilities, including federal courthouses and multi-tenant buildings that courts occupy.

The Judicial Conference already has been seeking support for legislation that would protect judges’ personally identifiable information, particularly on the internet. In July, a gunman attacked the family of U.S. District Judge Esther Salas in New Jersey, killing her 20-year-old son and wounding her husband.

In letters to the Judiciary committees last year, the U.S. courts urged Congress to pass legislation that would force a person, business or agency to remove the personal information of federal judges from public records within 72 hours of receiving a request to do so.

That information would include a judge’s home address, birth date, Social Security number, property tax records, personal email address, phone number, photographs and more. The conference also wants the measure to apply to judicial nominees and retired judges.

To enforce it, the courts are seeking a right to file a civil lawsuit to get an injunction, enforcement by a federal agency and provisions for “limited criminal enforcement authority.”

Congress, in the fiscal 2021 appropriations law, gave $7 million to the U.S. Marshals Service to replace all the threat detection systems at judges’ homes with modern technology, including video monitoring and mobile device accessibility. That program will start this fall and take 24 to 36 months to fully implement, Eagan said.