New Mexico lawmakers consider criminal penalties to protect judges from threats
New Mexico’s state legislature is considering a bill that would protect local judges and their families while imposing criminal penalties on offenders.
The bill would make it a fourth-degree felony to threaten a current or former judge and the judge’s family or retaliate because of a judicial decision.
Sharing personal information for malicious reasons (also called doxxing) would be considered a misdemeanor under the proposed legislation.
The Hill has reached out to the sponsors of the bill for comment.
According to the Albuquerque Journal, courthouses in New Mexico faced five threats in 2021, and 10 threats were made against judges in the state last year. One judge said a slab of concrete was thrown at his car outside his home.
A bipartisan pair of senators sponsored the bill, Reps. Ryan Lane (R) and Dayan Hochman-Vigil (D), after hearing a request from judicial branch leaders.
“It is critical that our judiciary remain independent and free from outside influences and House Bill 99 helps ensure this,” Lane told The Hill. “We can have important laws that are perfectly written, but if our judiciary is not free to interpret those laws objectively, then our system of government would crumble. Sadly, threats to harm our judges and their families appear to be on the rise. This bill is designed to target such conduct and provide much needed protection to our judges.”
While judges are protected by the U.S. Marshals Service, ideological polarization is said to be increasing in the nation and the judicial branch is being seen as less insulated from politics than before.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, who announced last month he was retiring, warned in his 2021 book “The Authority of the Court and the Perils of Politics” that the American public was evolving to see judges as “politicians in robes.”
Across the U.S., threats to federal judges soared in the past five years, with 926 incidents reported in 2015 and 4,261 in 2020, according to U.S. Marshals Service data cited by the federal judiciary.
Federal judges supported Congress’ Emergency Security Supplemental to Respond to January 6th Appropriations Act, which passed last year. The law has provided more funding to the judiciary and judicial facilities to upgrade security and other protections.
U.S. Judge Esther Salas in New Jersey, whose son was killed by a disgruntled lawyer, said last year that judges were at an increased risk, and pushed for more legislation to protect those who wield the gavel.
“We need to understand that judges are at risk,” she said. “We need to understand that we put ourselves in great danger every day for doing our jobs.”
New Jersey’s Senate Judiciary Committee passed a bill last year that would shield a judge’s personally identifiable information.
Updated at 4:54 p.m.
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