Stopgap U.S. government funding bill includes boost to court security

Fencing is seen in front of the United States Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C., U.S. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
  • Stopgap funding bill includes $112.5 million to "harden" courthouses
  • Money sought after Jan. 6, 2021, attack on U.S. Capitol

(Reuters) - The federal judiciary is set to receive $112.5 million to improve security at courthouses to prevent hostile intrusions as part of a stopgap funding measure the U.S. Congress needs to quickly pass to avert a partial government shutdown on Saturday.

The judiciary requested the additional security funding following a rise in threats to judges nationwide and the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, by supporters of former President Donald Trump.

The money has been tucked into a bill that would fund the federal government through Dec. 16. The U.S. Senate could take the measure up as soon as Thursday, and the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to promptly pass it.

U.S. District Judge Roslynn Mauskopf, the director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, cited the additional security funding in a memo to the judiciary on Wednesday outlining plans for the "unlikely event" of a shutdown.

"We appreciate that Congress recognizes the substantial and ongoing physical security needs of the Judiciary," Mauskopf wrote in a memo reviewed by Reuters.

The judiciary has been seeking the money since 2021, citing rising security concerns. The U.S. Marshals Service said judges were subject to 4,511 threats and inappropriate communications in 2021, up from 926 such incidents in 2015.

Mauskopf cited "evolving needs that have largely come from the lessons learned from Jan. 6," in requesting $112.5 million to secure court entrances and screening areas at a February 2021 hearing before a House Appropriations subcommittee.

"We’ve always been focused on mitigating vulnerabilities before they can be exploited," she said.

The exact courthouses that will receive funding for security improvements has not been determined, a spokesperson for the Administrative Office said.

In Wednesday's memo, Mauskopf said in the unlikely event Congress does not pass the funding bill by midnight Friday, the judiciary will be able to continue operating for at least two weeks thanks to money from other sources.

A separate bill is pending that would strengthen efforts to shield judges' personal information online, but quick passage has been blocked in the Senate by Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, who says it should also cover members of Congress.

That legislation, the Daniel Anderl Judicial Security and Privacy Act, was named for the deceased son of U.S. District Judge Esther Salas, who was killed in an attack at the New Jersey judge's home in July 2020 by a disgruntled lawyer.

Read more:

U.S. Senate heads toward passage of stopgap government funding bill

Judiciary gets more money for security but less than requested in new budget

U.S. Congress votes to expand Supreme Court security

U.S. Senate panel advances judicial security bill after N.J. attack

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Nate Raymond reports on the federal judiciary and litigation. He can be reached at nate.raymond@thomsonreuters.com.