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Senate includes judicial privacy measure in must-pass defense bill

A push to allow judges to wipe their personal data from the internet has been blocked by Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul

A police officer is seen outside the Supreme Court as it begins a new term on Oct. 3.
A police officer is seen outside the Supreme Court as it begins a new term on Oct. 3. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Corrected 5:40 p.m. | The Senate appears closer to passing a measure that would allow federal judges to scrub their personal information from the internet, a push that has stalled for years over whether it should also include members of Congress.

The language from a separate bill on the issue was included Tuesday in the Senate’s latest version of the must-pass National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2023, in a substitute amendment expected to be considered in November.

Senate Judiciary Chair Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., and New Jersey Sens. Cory Booker and Bob Menendez, in a news release, said the measure’s inclusion in the defense bill “brings us one step closer to protecting federal judges and their families.”

“No judge in America should have to fear for their lives and the safety of their family as they work to deliver equal justice under the law,” the senators said.

The measure would allow current and former federal judges to ask public-facing websites to remove personal information about themselves or immediate family members. The bill is named for the late son of federal Judge Esther Salas, Daniel Anderl, who was killed in a 2020 attack at the family’s New Jersey home.

The bill had wide support from Democrats and Republicans for more than two years, as lawmakers have grown concerned over increased political violence, particularly directed against judges. Last year the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 21-0, with one present vote, to send the judge bill to the floor.

[Senators weigh online protections for lawmakers’ personal info]

But efforts to advance the bill on the Senate floor were repeatedly blocked by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who sought to add similar protection for lawmakers to the measure.

“I agree with the spirit of the bill. I agree with the letter of the bill, but really it should be that judicial folks are protected as well as Congress,” Paul said on the Senate floor when objecting to the bill’s passage in May.

Court request

The Judicial Conference of the United States, which oversees federal courts, repeatedly called for the measure’s passage as well as more funds to secure federal courthouses. Judge Richard Sullivan of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, who chairs a committee for judicial security, called for the law’s passage in a news release last month.

“Our system of justice depends on judges who are free to carry out their Constitutional duties without fear of reprisal or violence,” Sullivan said.

Judicial security catapulted to political attention after the publication of a leaked draft Supreme Court opinion earlier this year that showed enough conservative justices voted to overturn the constitutional right to an abortion.

Protesters then targeted justices at their homes, with police arresting one man they said had a gun and a plan to attack Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, which prompted Congress to pass a measure expanding Supreme Court police protection to justices’ family members.

In the meantime, members of Congress have advocated providing the judiciary with more funds to increase its physical security. Congress has provided some additional funds for courthouse security — the current continuing resolution passed to avert a partial government shutdown gave the court system $112 million specifically dedicated to security efforts.

This report was revised to correct the spelling of Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh’s name.

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