By MARK SHERMAN and JESSICA GRESKO, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — A man armed with a machete once broke into Stephen Breyer’s Caribbean vacation home and stole $1,000. Ruth Bader Ginsburg had her handbag snatched from her on a Washington street. David Souter was attacked by several men while jogging.
Supreme Court justices are not immune to violent crimes. But this week’s late-night incident at Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s home in suburban Washington, where authorities said a man armed with a gun and knife threatened to kill the judge, reflects a heightened level of potential danger not just for members of the nation’s highest court, but for all judges.
A proposal pending in Congress would provide additional security measures for judges, and another would provide more privacy and protection for all federal judges.
The 24-hour security afforded to judges after leaking the draft opinion in a major abortion case might have averted tragedy.
But the situation had much in common with other recent incidents, which ended last week with the shooting of a former Wisconsin judge and the 2020 killing of a federal judge’s son at her home in New Jersey. Troubled men armed with warped vengeance carried out their threats.
“We see these threats increasing in number and intensity. That’s a sign. It’s a signal,” said US District Judge Esther Salas, whose son was killed in the attack nearly two years ago, which also injured her husband.
Kavanaugh’s alleged assailant is Nicholas John Roske, 26, of Simi Valley, California, authorities said while charging him with the attempted murder of a judge. Dressed in black, he arrived in a cab at Kavanaugh’s Maryland home around 1 a.m. Wednesday.
Spotting two U.S. Marshals guarding the home, he went the other way and called 911 to say he had suicidal thoughts and was also planning to kill Kavanaugh, according to court documents. Roske said he found the judge’s address on the Internet.
When police searched a backpack and suitcase he was carrying, they said they found a Glock 17 pistol, ammunition, a knife, zip ties, duct tape and other items Roske allegedly intended to use to break into the home. He said he bought the gun to kill Kavanaugh.
Last week, Wisconsin authorities said Douglas Uhde, 56, shot and killed John Roemer, a former district judge, in a targeted attack on a judge who once sentenced him to prison. Römer was found tied to a chair. Uhde shot himself and later died.
In July 2020, attorney Roy Den Hollander showed up at Salas’ home posing as a FedEx delivery man. Den Hollander shot and killed Salas’ 20-year-old son, Daniel Anderl, and wounded her husband, Mark Anderl. Salas was in a different part of the house at the time and was not injured.
Den Hollander, 72, was a men’s rights advocate with a history of anti-feminist writing. He was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound the day after the ambush, when police say they found a document with information on a dozen female judges from across the country, half of whom are Latinas, including Salas.
Authorities believe Den Hollander was also pursuing Judge Sonia Sotomayor, Salas said in a television interview last year, because when they searched one of Den Hollander’s lockers, they found a Manila folder containing information about Sotomayor.
Over the years, Supreme Court justices have urged Congress to allocate more money to their safety. But at the same time, judges often shrugged when protection was offered. For example, when Judge Antonin Scalia died on a hunting trip in Texas in 2016, he didn’t have a security detail with him.
In recent years, the court has increased security for judges. The court routinely refuses to discuss the nine justices’ protections, but Justice Amy Coney Barrett said earlier this year that she was unprepared for how much more extensive the security is now than it was when it was called for in the late 1990s Scalia worked.
Sotomayor enjoys walking among the guests during her public appearances, often making jokes about the armed officers who are there to protect her. “The boys up here. The big boys with things around their waists and stuff. They’re here to protect you from me,” she said, laughing, at an event earlier this year. “They get nervous when you get up unexpectedly. … Please don’t make her nervous.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that the House, with bipartisan support, will take up a bill already passed by the Senate that would extend protections to judges’ immediate families.
Gabe Roth, of court reform group Fix the Court, said the judges “need intelligence-level protection, which only became clearer this week. I’ve been saying it for years.”
A separate bill, named in memory of Salas’ son, would provide all federal judges with increased privacy and protections, including wiping personal information off the internet to deal with rising cyber threats. The US Marshals Service, which protects about 2,700 federal judges and thousands of other prosecutors and court officials, said there were 4,511 threats and inappropriate communications in 2021, up from 926 such incidents in 2015.
The legislation, which also has broad support from lawmakers from both parties, was blocked in the Senate by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who wants it to apply to members of Congress as well.
Sen. Bob Menendez, DN.J., the author of the bill, said the Kavanaugh incident and Roemer’s death in Wisconsin highlighted the need for the legislation. “Our bill is the only existing proposal to protect the personal information of judges and their families,” Menendez said in an email.
A similar bill in the House of Representatives hasn’t even gotten a hearing.
“We talk a lot about what can be done. How about we stop arming the public with information they are using to kill us? How about we do that?” Salas said in an interview with The Associated Press on Friday.
The internet has made it much easier to find personal information about judges and everyone else.
But even before the digital age, judges were sometimes the target of people who held grudges about their treatment in the criminal justice system. In a book, retired judge Susan P. Baker describes 42 judges, including three federal judges, who were murdered or otherwise met suspicious ends in the 20th century.
In the past 17 years, three close relatives of federal judges have been killed in attacks on judges’ homes, including Salas’ son. In 2005, US District Judge Joan Lefkow returned from work to find her husband and mother shot dead in the basement of their Chicago home. The killer was a homeless electrician who lost a medical malpractice lawsuit in her courtroom.
US District Judge Roslynn R. Mauskopf, who heads the office that oversees the administration of federal courts, said the incident at Kavanaugh’s home is just the latest reminder that “threats against judges are real and can and have had dire consequences.”
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