- The Washington Times
Thursday, March 5, 2020

A culture of disrespect and hostility toward judges is sweeping across the country and court security experts say the heated rhetoric from Washington leaders, such as Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, is to blame.

“I think some of the disrespect is an offshoot of the political climate, nationally,” said Virgil Lee Sinclair Jr., a retired Ohio Common Pleas Court judge and courthouse security expert. “That climate goes into a lot of the states and you don’t have the cooperation levels in some areas of the country where you used to.”

“Whether it is Trump or Schumer, there is definitely a different tenor than there was 20 years ago or even five years ago,” he said.

The hostility confronting the justice system came into sharp focus this week when Mr. Schumer unleashed a verbal attack on two Supreme Court justices appointed by President Trump. At a pro-choice rally outside the Supreme Court, he said Justices Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh would “pay a price” and get “hit hard” if the court upholds a Louisiana law imposing medical requirements on abortion clinics.

Republicans accused Mr. Schumer, a New York Democrat, of threatening the justices. Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. agreed with that assessment and issued a rare public rebuke. Ultimately, Mr. Schumer walked back his comments in a speech Thursday on the Senate floor, saying he regretted his choice of words but stood by his sentiment that there would be “political consequences” for allowing restrictions on abortion clinics.

Randy Harris, a court security expert, said he was alarmed by Mr. Schumer’s rhetoric on the steps of the high court.

“To me, it sounded like threats that say if followers of Mr. Schumer and his views don’t get what they want, they may have to carry something out,” he said. “That could definitely be inflammatory speech.”

Mr. Schumer’s comments come just weeks after Mr. Trump took swipes at U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who sentenced his longtime ally Roger Stone to prison.

The president questioned whether Judge Jackson, who was appointed by President Obama, was fair and impartial. Mr. Trump’s comments opened the floodgates as Stone’s supporters took the internet to blast the judge.

Judge Sinclair worries the pointed words could lead to real violence in the courtroom.

“I don’t know if the words are putting us in physical jeopardy but I would say the concept of not respecting the robe does create a security risk,” he said.

The Supreme Court police provide security for justices as well as the court building and grounds. A spokesperson for the high court’s police refused to comment on the potential threat from Mr. Schumer.

Law enforcement agencies take threats against the courts and its judges seriously:

Christopher Paul Hasson, a Coast Guard officer, was accused last year of plotting a massive terror attack and allegedly searched the internet for the home addresses of two Supreme Court justices.

Court documents revealed that Hasson searched the internet to learn whether Supreme Court justices have security protection.

The federal judge in the 2018 financial fraud trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort told the court he was traveling with U.S. Marshals protection because of threats lodged against him.

Data from the U.S. Marshals Service, which protects roughly 2,700 federal judges across the nation, shows threats are on the rise against the court system and its officers.

In fiscal year 2019, the U.S. Marshals investigated 4,449 threats lodged against judges. That’s nearly double the 2,357 threats investigated in 2016 and nearly five times the 926 threats the Marshals probed in 2015.

Judge Sinclair worries it will take a dramatic event before the rhetoric toward judges simmers down.

“If leaders of either party are being disrespectful, you can expect the public to follow them. But society as a whole is a lot more disrespectful of any public official,” he said. “I can see where judges are getting the same disrespect from leadership regardless of party.”

• Jeff Mordock can be reached at jmordock@washingtontimes.com.

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