Judicial Security: Responsibilities and Current Issues

Publication Date: April 2008

Publisher: Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service


Research Area: Justice



The importance of judicial security was underscored by the murders of family members of a Chicago federal judge on February 28, 2005, and the killings less than two weeks later of a state judge, a court reporter, and a sheriff's deputy in an Atlanta courthouse. Shortly after these incidents, the House and the Senate held hearings and legislation was introduced to (among other things) improve security for judicial officers in the courtrooms; safeguard judges and their families at home; restrict postings of personal information about judicial officials and their families on the Internet; extend or make permanent the authority to redact certain information from judges' and their families' financial disclosure forms; and increase penalties for attacks against them and other law enforcement personnel. These legislative initiatives were H.R. 1710, H.R. 1751, H.R. 4311, H.R. 4472, H.R. 4732, S. 1608, S. 1558, and S. 1968. Several of the bills have been passed by either the House or the Senate, one bill has been passed by both Houses, but none has been enacted. Separate legislation was enacted (P.L. 109-13) that appropriated funds for intrusion detection alarms in judges' homes.

By statute, the United States Marshals Service (USMS) within the Department of Justice has primary responsibility for the security of the Judiciary, but USMS is to work closely with the Judicial Conference of the United States, the Administrative Office of the United States Courts (AOUSC), and the Federal Protective Service (FPS) within the Department of Homeland Security. Concerns have been raised, however, about the staffing of, and the communication and coordination between, these offices. According to USMS, more than 400 court facilities nationwide are under its protection.

Both federal and state judicial organizations have also attempted to address judicial security concerns. The Judicial Conference has, among other things, encouraged newly appointed judges to provide personal information to USMS, and urged USMS to provide additional training to marshals and inspectors. The National Center for the State Courts (NCSC) issued a document intended to serve as a framework for state judicial security, and has held two summits on court safety and security.

Federal court security funding is currently provided under two sets of appropriations bills, one for the Judiciary and one for USMS. The majority of the Judiciary funding for security is ultimately transferred to USMS to administer the program that pays for contract security guards and other expenses. The FY2007 Judiciary budget request for court security is $410.3 million -- a $42.1 million (11.4%) increase over the FY2006 appropriation. Separately, the FY2007 budget request for USMS for judicial and courthouse security is $343 million -- a $19 million (5.9%) increase over the FY2006 appropriation.

Several related issues may merit consideration as Congress considers judicial security, including funding and resources, communication and consultation, federal/state collaboration, and continuous oversight. This report will be updated upon passage of relevant legislation, or as other events warrant.