© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: An American flag waves outside the U.S. Department of Justice Building in Washington, U.S., December 15, 2020. REUTERS/Al Drago
By Joseph Tanfani, Peter Eisler and Ned Parker
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Serious threats to U.S. federal judges have more than doubled over the past three years, part of a growing wave of politically driven violence, according to U.S. Marshals Service data reviewed by Reuters.
The agency, responsible for the protection of 2,700 federal judges and more than 30,000 federal prosecutors and other court personnel, has seen a sharp rise in threats related to the country’s bitter political divisions, Marshals Director Ronald Davis told Reuters in a recent interview.
Serious threats against federal judges – ones that trigger an investigation by the agency – rose to 457 in fiscal year 2023, which ended on Sept. 30, from 224 in fiscal 2021, according to the previously unreported data. Serious threats against federal prosecutors also more than doubled, from 68 in 2021 to 155 in 2023, the statistics show.
The spike spans a period that began around the time of the 2020 presidential election, when federal courts heard a series of highly politicized cases, including failed lawsuits filed by former President Donald Trump and his backers seeking to overturn his loss. Over the same timeframe, election officials saw a barrage of threats from Trump’s supporters, as previously documented by Reuters.
Judges and prosecutors involved in the criminal and civil prosecutions of Trump have reported hundreds of threatening messages linked to those cases, according to court records and public statements by the targeted officials. Court officials also have reported threats from activists enraged by the Supreme Court’s 2022 decision to overturn the legal right to abortion.
Davis said the agency has a “growing concern” about a rising tide of threats fueled by partisan divisions and vitriol on social media.
On Wednesday, Davis is scheduled to testify at a U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary subcommittee oversight hearing.
The Marshals Service reviews thousands of potential threats each year against court personnel and launches what it calls “protective investigations” on those it considers the most serious. The agency declined to provide details on the threats.
The Justice Department, when asked to provide the number of people charged or convicted for threatening judges, said they do not track the data.