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Congress must pass Daniel’s Law to protect federal judges

One judge has already buried a son. We cannot let it happen again

The E. Barrett Prettyman United States Courthouse in Washington is seen in 2018. We cannot shield judges from all threats but we can take sensible measures to secure their sensitive information from public view, Brnovich and Grewal write.
The E. Barrett Prettyman United States Courthouse in Washington is seen in 2018. We cannot shield judges from all threats but we can take sensible measures to secure their sensitive information from public view, Brnovich and Grewal write. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

On July 19, 2020, a man posing as a delivery driver rang the doorbell to New Jersey federal judge Esther Salas’ home. Judge Salas’ son and only child, Daniel Anderl, answered. The family had just finished celebrating Daniel’s 20th birthday. After opening the door, Daniel was immediately shot and killed, and the judge’s husband was shot multiple times and seriously wounded.  

The shooter went to the home of Judge Salas with the intent to do harm because he disagreed with her handling of a lawsuit he had filed. The man later committed suicide, and a subsequent investigation revealed that he had been gathering information on other potential judicial targets, including a folder on Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and the address and photograph of New York Chief Judge Janet DiFiore.

An independent judiciary is a foundational principle of our American government, and judges cannot fulfill their constitutional role while they, and those close to them, are targeted for judicial work. Personal threats against federal judges have surged by over 400 percent since 2015, according to the U.S. Marshals Service, the agency charged with protecting members of the judiciary and the federal courthouses. This past January marked the 10th anniversary of the death of John Roll, the chief federal judge for Arizona, who was slain, along with five others, at a public event in Tucson by a gunman who also shot then-Rep. Gabby Giffords.

Our judges’ personal information must be protected. Judge Salas’ attacker was able to find her home address, her phone number and other personal information through legal, public sources.

Last year, we led a bipartisan coalition of 51 attorneys general — through the National Association of Attorneys General — in support of the Daniel Anderl Judicial Security and Privacy Act, also known as Daniel’s Law, in honor of Judge Salas’ late son. The federal legislation was intended to protect the personal information of federal judges and their immediate families in response to growing threats. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed similar legislation into state law in November 2020. 

Daniel’s Law was eventually blocked in the Senate over concerns that it did not extend the same protections to members of Congress. There is no reason congressional protections cannot be addressed in separate legislation. The need for Daniel’s Law is urgent, and addressing one necessity should not be delayed because of a separate need to solve another.  

On Wednesday, members of New Jersey’s congressional delegation — as well as lawmakers from other states — reintroduced Daniel’s Law in both the House and the Senate. Just as before, the bill includes a number of commonsense safeguards that will help prevent harm to judges.

First, the bill would prohibit federal agencies from publicly posting online personal identifiable information of judges and their immediate families. It would also prevent commercial data brokers from selling judges’ personal identifiable information and would create federal grants for state and local governments to block the release of personal information by state or local agencies for protected individuals. Finally, the bill would provide additional resources for the U.S. Marshals Service in anticipating and deterring threats to federal judges.  

We cannot shield judges from all threats but we can take sensible measures to secure their sensitive information from public view. One judge has already buried her son. Federal action is needed to spread these protections across the country.      

The prospect of violent retaliation for judicial service is antithetical to the rule of law. We urge Congress to act swiftly and pass theDaniel Anderl Judicial Security and Privacy Act to help keep our judges — and our country — safe.

Mark Brnovich is a Republican serving as attorney general for the state of Arizona.

Gurbir S. Grewal is a Democrat serving as attorney general for the state of New Jersey.