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Why isn’t Daniel’s Law a law? The federal judiciary needs protection

Following the FBI’s execution of a legal search warrant at former President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate to reclaim documents allegedly taken when he exited the White House, threats against public officials have risen to unprecedented levels. The Florida magistrate who approved the warrant has received several death threats and been subjected to numerous antisemitic slurs, while his home address was posted on several rightwing websites.

On Aug. 12, an outdoor Shabbat service at his synagogue was cancelled due to safety concerns. In Ohio, a man dressed in body armor attempted to breach the FBI headquarters in Cincinnati before being killed in a shootout with police. Several posts the assailant made on Donald Trump’s Truth Social website urged so-called “patriots” to come to Florida and kill all federal agents.  

Congress has proven it can act quickly to ensure the safety of federal judges. Six days after a man was arrested for attempted murder outside the home of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh (armed with a Glock 17 equipped with two magazines and ammunition, tactical knife, pepper spray, hammer, screwdriver, crowbar, zip ties and duct tape), Congress overwhelmingly approved increased security for Supreme Court justices and their family members.

Today, the need to protect all federal judges is acute. The U.S. Marshall’s Service reports that in 2014, there were 768 “inappropriate communications” directed at judges and court employees. Last year, that figure rose to 4,511. This summer, a retired Wisconsin judge was murdered by a defendant whom he had previously sentenced to six years in prison for burglary. The suspect carried a list of others he intended to kill, including Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). U.S. Second Circuit Judge Richard J. Sullivan, chair of the Judicial Conference Committee on Judicial Security, says, “Judges should not have to fear retaliation for doing their jobs.”

The danger posed to federal judges was made painfully clear with the 2020 murder of 20-year-old Daniel Anderl. Anderl, the only son of federal district judge Esther Salas, was shot through the heart by a man at the judge’s front door posing as a Fed Ex driver.

The killer, a self-professed “anti-feminist lawyer,” had a years-long case before Judge Salas protesting the government’s exclusion of requiring women to register for the draft. Salas’s husband, Mark, was also seriously wounded in the attack. The suspect later committed suicide, but authorities found a list of other potential targets he intended to kill. When Judge Salas was named by Barack Obama in 2010 to become the first Hispanic to serve as a Federal District Court judge, she testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee with her family proudly sitting behind her. Judge Salas told the committee that her smiling son, Daniel, was “really excited” about her nomination.

For two years, Judge Salas has been a vigorous proponent of the Daniel Anderl Judicial Security and Privacy Act. Popularly known as Daniel’s Law, the legislation would redact the personal information of federal judges, including home addresses and names of family members, from public access.

The legislation has been endorsed by the American Bar Association and the National Association of Attorneys General. It has strong bipartisan support in Congress. By a vote of 21 to zero, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the measure and sent it to the Senate floor. Anderl’s home state senators, New Jersey’s Bob Menendez and Cory Booker, urged its immediate consideration.

But once that motion was made, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul objected, arguing the legislation should be amended to include members of Congress. Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) have introduced legislation protecting the privacy of congressional members, and their proposal is under consideration by the Judiciary Committee. Despite Booker’s plea that Daniel’s Law is “ready, right now,” Paul continued to object and the bill was shelved. Booker described the inaction as “cruel,” while a disappointed Judge Salas watched the dismal proceedings from the Senate gallery.

Daniel Anderl was a rising junior at The Catholic University of America where I presently work. Anderl’s death was deeply felt throughout the entire campus. Gerald Sharpe, a university student at the time, said Anderl “had a big heart, a positive attitude and a memorable smile.” At his funeral, a message was delivered on behalf of Pope Francis offering condolences and calling for “an end to senseless violence and to work for justice, healing, and peace.”  

Following the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health overturning Roe v. Wade, Cardinal Wilton Gregory called on all citizens to ensure that “the full range of life issues are adequately addressed.” The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops likewise urged all elected officials to “enact laws and policies that promote and protect the most vulnerable among us.”

Daniel’s Law presents a unique opportunity for church leaders to live up to those commitments. But the Catholic Church has been strangely quiescent. Neither Cardinal William Gregory, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, nor Catholic University have issued statements supporting Daniel’s Law. Other Catholic lay leaders have been equally silent.

A plaque honoring Daniel Anderl posted outside Catholic University’s Law School reads he “offered his life as an act of love.” Catholics should call for the immediate passage of Daniel’s Law when Congress returns to work in September.

Cory Booker says passing it would be an “act of mercy.” The Daniel Anderl Judicial Security and Privacy Act is ready for congressional action. Daniel Anderl’s parents have waited long enough.

John Kenneth White is a professor of politics at The Catholic University of America.

Tags Donald Trump Esther Salas Esther Salas judiciary Rand Paul threats against election officials US Supreme Court

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