WASHINGTON (AP) — Hundreds of federal judges face the same job every day. Review the affidavit filed by the federal agent and approve the search warrant request. But for U.S. Justice of the Peace Bruce Reinhart, the repercussions from his decision to approve a search warrant were not routine.
His signature earlier this month revealed a path for the FBI to search former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate as part of an investigation into whether he improperly removed classified material from the White House. He has faced a barrage of death threats ever since. His South Florida synagogue canceled Friday night’s Shabbat service after the unrest.
Trump has done little to bring down the heat among his supporters, has denounced the raids as political persecution, and has previously made political donations to Democrats, so he called Reinhardt on this. asked to deny himself in the case. However, Reinhardt also contributed to the Republican Party.
The threats against Reinhardt are part of a broader attack by Trump and his allies on law enforcement agencies, especially the FBI, in the aftermath of the investigation. But experts warn that the focus on judges is dangerous to the U.S. rule of law and the country’s survival as a democracy amid growing threats to justice in general.
“The threat to constitutionally responsible judges strikes at the very core of our democracy,” said Richard of the United States Court of Justice for the Second Circuit, chairman of the Judiciary Council Committee on Justice Security. Judge J. Sullivan said in a statement recently released in the aftermath of the search. “Judges need not fear retaliation for doing their job.”
Phone messages left in Reinhardt’s room were not immediately returned. On Thursday, he presided over hearings in response to requests from media organizations, including the Associated Press, in an effort to unseal the underlying affidavits he filed when the Justice Department sought the Mar-a-Lago search warrant. is.
Asked for comment on the measures taken to protect Reinhardt and his family, the U.S. Marshals Service said in a statement: “While we are not discussing specific security measures, we will continue to monitor the measures in place. We are reviewing and taking appropriate steps to provide protection where necessary to ensure the integrity of the federal judicial process.”
Swearing against magistrates, while impressive, is becoming more and more common. In 2014, the U.S. Marshals Service processed 768 cases it classified as “improper communications” involving judges and court officials. Last year he passed 4,500.
Barbara Lynn, Chief Justice of the Northern District of Texas, said at one point, “Virtually everyone understands how inappropriate it is to endanger the life or safety of a judge because he disagrees with his decision.” “I think there are a lot of people now who don’t think that’s a bad thing.”
Lynn is one of many law enforcement officials urging Congress to approve the Daniel Andel bill, named after the 20-year-old son of District Court Judge Esther Salas. In 2020, he was killed when gunmen came to his home in New Jersey. his father was injured. The bill, which has the support of groups ranging from the American Bar Association to the National Association of Attorneys General, would keep more private information about judges private.
In June, former Wisconsin County Circuit Judge John Remer was murdered in his home. Authorities said it was a targeted killing by the shooter, who was also fatally wounded. Later that month, protesters gathered at the home of a conservative U.S. Supreme Court Justice after overturning a 49-year-old ruling that women have a constitutional right to have an abortion. A man with a knife, zip ties and a gun was arrested near his home and said he planned to kill the conservative judge. Congress has swiftly approved funds to increase the security of the judge’s home and protect his family around the clock.
Judges are becoming more targeted as trust in public institutions plummets and partisan rhetoric escalates. This is part of a pattern Stephen Levitsky has seen before.
Levitsky, a Harvard political scientist and co-author of How Democracies Die, said, “This is the classic precursor to democratic collapse. Calling it a warning sign is an understatement.”
In Trump’s first presidential campaign, he personally denounced the judge who ruled against him in a lawsuit over the now-defunct Trump University, but he has set the ground rules governing intimidation and explosive rhetoric. That has changed, said Matthew Weil, executive director of the Bipartisan Democracy Initiative. Policy Center in Washington DC.
Weill said both the right and the left have come to threaten the judiciary.
Nathan Hall, principal consultant for the National State Court Center, said the delay in public trust combined with access to judges’ addresses and personal information has led to an anonymous state trial from a nationally renowned Supreme Court justice. He says it affects everyone, even officers.
“This brings us to the core issue of having equal access to justice – a core tenet of our ability to function as a third independent branch of government. ‘ said Hall. “Judges are just people after all. They wear robes and still go home to their families.”
The latest warning signs emerged after last week’s raid of Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s Florida resort and political and personal headquarters. Court records show FBI agents seized 11 sets of classified information as part of investigations under three different federal laws, including the law governing the collection, transmission, or loss of defense information under the Espionage Act. did.
Trump accused the government of abusing his power to target him, and his supporters vehemently opposed online searches targeting the FBI and the Justice Department. Trump’s Truth He Social An armed man who posted threats to the FBI on his network was killed by officials after he attempted to storm his office in Cincinnati.
Still, Trump and his supporters have been waging a rhetorical war against the FBI for years, since an investigation into whether his original campaign was sponsored by Russia in 2016. Focusing on judges is relatively new.
Gretchen Helmke, a political scientist at the University of Rochester, said Trump’s actions mirror what demagogues have done in other countries where democracies have collapsed. “The targeting of the judiciary by popularly elected leaders is often an early sign of democratic erosion,” Helmke said in his email.
Helmke cites Venezuela, Bolivia and Peru as places where the incoming administration has vowed to wipe out justice, and has since added supporters to the justice system. There will never be, and it is essentially costless to use the manipulation of the judiciary by the previous administration as an excuse to create the courts the next administration desires.
Hall said people can look at other countries and see what happens when public officials fear retaliation. I think there’s probably a lot of disagreement about how far down that road we’re going, but it raises an important question. “
Riccardi reported from Denver.
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