Our Judges Need to Be Protected Now—and Here’s How

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Our Judges Need to Be Protected Now—and Here’s How

Joan and Michael Lefkow on the steps of the Supreme Court, 1977.

Daniel Anderl, the 20-year-old only son of Judge Esther Salas and Mark Anderl, answered the doorbell on a July night to a disgruntled former litigant disguised as a FedEx delivery man. That man shot and killed Daniel. Mark Anderl was shot and critically wounded as he tried to shield his beloved son. The former litigant, a “men’s rights” attorney, had found Judge Salas’s home address from publicly available information, compiled a complete dossier on her, and went to her home in New Jersey to seek retribution for the dismissal of his lawsuit.

Fifteen years ago, a litigant broke into my home on the north side of Chicago and shot and killed my 64-year-old father, attorney Michael F. Lefkow, and 89-year-old grandmother, Donna G. Humphrey, because my mother, Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow, had dismissed his medical malpractice claim. Like the gunman who killed Daniel Anderl, he had found our home address from publicly available information. He was not the first to threaten my mother: in 2004, white supremacist Matt Hale had ordered a hit on her even though she had ruled in his favor on a trademark infringement case.

The devastation that descended on me and my family can hardly be described. No words could express the unfathomable loss that Judge Salas and Mr. Anderl must be enduring.

After the “Lefkow murders,” former president Bill Clinton wrote to my mother to express his condolences. He decried the “madness in the shadows of modern life.” Only that madness is no longer in the shadows, but flourishing in the 21st century. The causes can be properly dissected by experts, but easy access to firearms and personal identification information enable anyone with a grudge to cause great harm. According to the U.S. Marshals Service, threats and inappropriate comments to members of the judiciary have quadrupled since 2016.

Members of the judiciary are particularly vulnerable because their courtrooms are often the last resort for desperate, aggrieved individuals. As Judge Lefkow explained, “The law does not do what these litigants expect it to do. That is, they have a sense that they’ve been wronged—and indeed they may well have been wronged—but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are going to win a judgment against someone who wronged them.” For those litigants privileged enough to afford counsel, their lawyers can help explain that some of the wrongs experienced are not ones the court can address, but most litigants are not so fortunate.

Now, Judge Salas is advocating for the passage of the “Daniel Anderl Judicial Security and Privacy Act of 2020” (“Daniel’s Law”), a bill aiming to protect the personally identifiable information and home addresses (“PII”) of active and retired federal judges. The bill would prohibit data brokers and other businesses from selling or publishing judges’ PII and would require any such information to be taken down within 72 hours of a request. It would further authorize a private right of action to seek injunctive or declaratory relief, damages of at least $10,000, and provide for attorney’s fees and costs.

Daniel’s Law has bipartisan support in Congress. The House version, H.R. 8591, was introduced by Representative Mikie Sherril (D-NJ) and has 10 co-sponsors, though only one is from Illinois, Representative Sean Casten (D-IL.). The Senate version, S.B. 4711, was introduced by Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and enjoys co-sponsorship from bipartisan leaders, including Senator Richard J. Durbin (D-IL).

Governor Phil Murphy of New Jersey signed a similar version of the bill into law on November 20, 2020, which prohibits the disclosure of the home address of any active or retired judge, prosecutor, or law enforcement officer (“at-risk individuals”). Government agencies, individuals, and businesses are barred from knowingly publishing on the internet the home address or telephone number of any active or retired judge and federal prosecutor.

The State of Illinois should adopt a similar bill, one that imposes statutory penalties on any government agency, individual, business, or data broker that publishes the home address or other PII of an at-risk individual or their immediate family members. It should also provide for attorney’s fees and costs. I would lobby to expand “at-risk individual” to include those who have been granted orders of protection.

Some might argue that these laws are unconstitutional restraints on speech. Yet there is a long tradition of curtailing speech when it poses imminent harm to others. See, e.g., Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444 (1969). Personally identifiable information can be used to cause great, imminent harm, and businesses currently have no incentive to remove it (I have struggled in vain with data brokers to have my PII removed). Freedom of speech is a cherished principle, but it should not hold hostage the right to privacy.

Perhaps other critics fear restraints on workplace rights. This bill, however, would not infringe upon a person’s right to picket the workplace, where there is security for all involved, nor would it hinder any other lawful workplace activities. Daniel’s Law would simply reduce the imminent harm that judges face if their rulings make litigants upset.

The state has a compelling interest in an independent judiciary. Judges, tasked with determining truth and meting out justice impartially, need special protection so they can issue unpopular decisions without fear of retribution. The independence of the judiciary in the 21st century, the cornerstone of our democracy, depends on the passage of Daniel’s Law.

To contact your congressional representatives and urge them to support Daniel’s Law, please visit www.congress.gov.