Chief Justice: Judges’ security is “essential” for the justice system

WASHINGTON (AP) — With security threats to Supreme Court justices still fresh memories, Chief Justice John Roberts on Saturday praised programs that protect justices, saying “we need to support the judges by ensuring their safety”.

Roberts and other conservative Supreme Court justices have been the subject of protests, some at their homes, after the May leak of the court’s decision that ultimately stripped constitutional protections for abortion. Judge Samuel Alito said the leak had made conservative judges “targets for assassination”. And in June, a man carrying a gun, knife and zippers was arrested near Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s home after he threatened to kill the judge, whose vote was key to overturning the court’s decision. Roe v. Wade.

Roberts, writing in an annual year-end report on federal justice, did not specifically mention the abortion ruling, but the case and the reaction to it seemed clear on his mind.

“Judicial opinions speak for themselves, and there is no obligation in our free country to accept them. Indeed, we judges often disagree — sometimes strongly — with the opinions of our colleagues, and we explain why in public writings about the cases before us,” Roberts wrote.

Polls following the abortion decision show public confidence in the court at an all-time low. And two of Roberts’ liberal colleagues who dissented in the abortion case, Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, said the court should be concerned with overturning precedent and appearing political.

After the leak and the threat against Kavanaugh, lawmakers passed legislation strengthening security protections for judges and their families. Separately, in December, lawmakers passed a law protecting the personal information of federal judges, including their addresses.

The law is named after U.S. District Judge Esther Salas’ son, Daniel Anderl, 20, who was killed at the family’s New Jersey home by a man who previously had a case before her.

Roberts thanked members of Congress “who are responding to judicial security needs.” And he said programs that protect judges are “essential to making a court system work.”

Writing about judicial security, Roberts told the story of Judge Ronald N. Davies, who in September 1957 ordered the integration of Little Rock Central High School into Arkansas. Davies’ decision followed the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education that separate schools were unconstitutional and rejected Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus’ attempt to stop school integration.

Davies “was physically threatened for following the law,” but the judge was “intimidated,” Roberts said.

“A justice system cannot and should not live in fear. The events in Little Rock teach the importance of governing by law rather than by the mob,” he wrote.

Roberts noted that officials are currently working to replicate the courtroom Davies presided over in 1957. Roberts said the judge’s bench used by Davies and other courtroom artifacts have been preserved and will be installed in the recreated courtroom in a federal courthouse in Little Rock “so that these important artifacts will once again be used to hold court.”

Before that happens, however, the judge’s bench will be on display as part of an exhibit at the Supreme Court beginning in the fall and for the next several years, he said.

“The exhibit will introduce visitors to the workings of the federal court system, the history of racial segregation and desegregation in our country, and the towering contributions of Thurgood Marshall as an advocate,” Roberts said. Marshall, who argued Brown v. Board of Education, became the first black Supreme Court justice in 1967.

The Supreme Court is still grappling with complex issues involving race. Two cases of that term deal with affirmative action, and the court’s conservative majority should use them to overturn decades of rulings that allow colleges to consider race in admissions. In another case, judges could weaken the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, the crown jewel of the civil rights movement.

The judges will hear their first arguments of 2023 on January 9.



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