WASHINGTON — With security threats to Supreme Court justices still fresh in our minds, Chief Justice John Roberts on Saturday praised programs that protect judges, saying that “we must support judges by ensuring their safety”.
Roberts and other conservative Supreme Court justices were the subject of protests, some at their homes, after the leak in May of the court’s decision that finally removed constitutional protections for abortion. Judge Samuel Alito has said the leak made conservative judges “assassination targets.” And in June, a man carrying a gun, knife and cable ties was arrested near the home of Judge Brett Kavanaugh after threatening to kill the judge, whose vote was key to overturning the court’s decision in Roe v. Wade.
Roberts, writing in a end of year annual report on the federal judiciary, he did not specifically mention the abortion decision, but the case and the reaction to it seemed clear in his mind.
“Judicial opinions speak for themselves and there is no obligation in our free country to agree with them. In fact, we judges frequently, sometimes strongly, disagree with the views of our colleagues, and we explain why in public briefs on the cases before us,” Roberts wrote.
Polls after the abortion decision show that public trust in the court is at record lows. And two of Roberts’s liberal colleagues who dissented on the abortion case, Judges Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, have said that the court should be concerned with overturning a precedent and appearing political.
After leak and threat to Kavanaugh, lawmakers passed legislation increased security protection for judges and their families. Separately, in December, lawmakers passed a law that protects the personal information of federal judges, including their addresses.
The law is named for U.S. District Judge Esther Salas’ son, Daniel Anderl, 20, who was murdered at the family’s New Jersey home by a man who previously had a case before her.
Roberts thanked members of Congress “who are addressing judicial security needs.” And he said that programs that protect judges are “essential to operating a court system.”
Writing about judicial security, Roberts told the story of Judge Ronald N. Davies, who in September 1957 ordered the integration of Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas. Davies’ decision followed the Supreme Court ruling Brown v. Board of Education that segregated schools were unconstitutional and rejected Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus’s attempt to halt school integration.
Davies “was physically threatened for following the law,” but the judge “didn’t flinch,” Roberts said.
“A judicial system cannot and should not live in fear. The Little Rock events teach about the importance of the rule of law rather than the mob,” she wrote.
Roberts noted that officials are currently working to replicate the courtroom that Davies presided over in 1957. Roberts said the judge’s bench used by Davies and other courtroom artifacts have been preserved and will be installed in the recreated courtroom. in a federal courthouse in Little Rock “so that these important artifacts will be used to hold court once more.”
Before that happens, however, the judge’s bench will be on display as part of an exhibit at the Supreme Court beginning in the fall and for years to come, he said.
“The exhibit will introduce visitors to how the federal court system works, the history of racial segregation and desegregation in our country, and Thurgood Marshall’s impressive contributions as an advocate,” said Roberts. Marshall, who argued Brown against the Board of Education, became the first black Supreme Court justice in 1967.
The Supreme Court is still grappling with complicated issues related to race. Two instances of this term deal with affirmative action., and the court’s conservative majority is expected to use them to reverse decades of decisions that allow colleges to take race into account in admissions. Otherwise, the judges could weaken the Federal Voting Rights Act of 1965the jewel in the crown of the civil rights movement.
The justices will hear their first arguments of 2023 on January 9.