Judiciary seeks $389.5 million for courthouse security and renovations in wake of 2020 unrest

cleaning courthouse graffiti LA protests photo by Stacey Leasca
Graffiti being cleaned off an LA courthouse.

  • The US judiciary is seeking $389.5 million to upgrade courthouses after 2020’s unrest.
  • It was part of a wider $1.5 billion request, which included $515 million for cybersecurity upgrades.
  • “The threat to federal courts is getting worse,” court officials said.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The federal court system asked Congress for $389.5 million to upgrade buildings and security across the US in the wake of escalating violence and vandalism.

“Over the past year, the federal Judiciary has suffered an increasing number of acts of violence and vandalism on and off courthouse premises,” wrote John W. Lungstrum, chair of Judicial Conference Committee on the Budget, and Roslynn R. Mauskopf, director of the Administrative Office of the US Courts, in a pair of letters sent to Congress earlier this month.

The request, part of a wider one totalling $1.54 billion, came after an unprecedented year of vandalism and attacks on courthouses and staff, the letter said.

Although there was plenty of unrest in 2020, many protests were also carried out peacefully. Still, more than 50 federal courthouses were damaged during the year, according to the US court system. US Marshals counted 4,261 threats against judges and court personnel in 2020, a 360% increase from the year earlier.

“The threat to federal courts is getting worse,” the judiciary’s letter said. “A comprehensive approach is required to effectively address the growing violence and threats facing the judiciary.”

The letter listed several attacks, including the targeting of Esther Salas, a federal judge whose son was killed at her New Jersey home. In Arizona, a security officer was shot outside a federal courthouse. In California, a guard was killed in a drive-by shooting.

About $267 million of the requested funds would go to upgrading “aging perimeter security” at federal courthouses.

At a congressional hearing in February, Mauskopf listed particular courthouses in need of upgrades. They included a federal courthouse in Augusta, Georgia, which Mauskopf called “our highest priority,” because it scored 26.2 out of 100 on a security scoring system.

Government buildings carry those security scores to show how vulnerable they are. In contrast, a recently upgraded federal courthouse in Brenton, Illinois, jumped from 46.1 to 80.2 after a $4.7 million upgrade, Mauskopf said.

The request, which was sent to leaders of the House and Senate budget committees, also included $515 million for cybersecurity protection. That money would go to both IT systems and modernization.

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How Donald Trump hurt female representation in federal courts

supreme court trump
Supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump wave a flag at the Supreme Court as the court reviews a lawsuit filed by Texas seeking to undo President-elect Joe Biden’s election victory in Washington, U.S., December 11, 2020.

  • The federal judiciary has always been overrepresented by male judges compared to the US population.
  • But Donald Trump’s appointments of more than 230 judges left the courts even less female.
  • Experts say gender parity is vital to the courts’ understanding of gender justice issues.
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After four years in office, President Donald Trump left America’s judiciary – an institution already steeped in gender homogeneity – significantly more male.

During his one-term presidency, Trump appointed more than 230 lifetime-appointed judges to the federal court system, installing approximately 28% of the current federal judiciary and cementing his legacy on the American court system for decades to come.

Insider compiled a database of every Article III judge in the federal judiciary, which includes Supreme Court justices, federal circuit and district judges, and justices on the US Court of International Trade. Once appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate, Article III judges are granted a position for life.

Read more: Trump appointed 28% of all the federal judges in the US, and they could mold American life for decades to come

Trump doled out lifetime appointments to more than three times as many male judges as female judges – 174 men and only 55 women. For comparison, of the 315 justices appointed by former President Barack Obama, who remain on the bench, 183 are men and 132 are women.

The federal judiciary is still far from achieving gender parity

A little more than half of the US population is female, but of the approximately 800 Article III judges currently on the bench, 67% are men and 33% are women. The percentage of female Trump appointees is even smaller – only 24% of his picks are women.

Gender of active judges, by president who appointed them 2021

Equal representation at the highest levels of the law gives legitimacy to the courts and enhances the fairness of the adjudication process, experts told Insider.

“When a court is reflective of … the people they are aiming to protect, then individuals who appear in front of the court may be more confident that the court understands the real-world implications of their rulings and therefore will have better outcomes,” said Theresa Lau, senior counsel at the National Women’s Law Center.

Judges bring their unique experiences to the bench, which Judge Karen Donohue, president of the National Association of Women Judges, said often leads to more comprehensive and empathetic perspectives from female judges.

“Laws and rulings can be based on gender and racial stereotypes that may have different impacts on men and women,” Donohue said.

Having women on the bench is also a crucial step in ensuring the courts understand the implications of gender justice issues in the judicial pipeline, Lau said.

Women are not a monolith – neither are female judges

While more women in positions of judicial power is a positive aim, progressive activists are less concerned with the gender of a judge and more focused on how that judge wields their power.

“The critical question is whether or not a judge understands that central to the pursuit of freedom and justice are laws that support equity and enable women and all people to thrive,” Amanda Thayer, spokesperson for NARAL Pro-Choice, told Insider.

Two of Trump’s female appointees, in fact, have some of the harshest anti-abortion rights records of the batch.

Wendy Vitter – a Louisiana judge who once said Planned Parenthood kills “over 150,000 females a year” and Sarah Pitlyk – a pro-life Missourian who was deemed unqualified by the American Bar Association – were both confirmed to lifetime appointments in 2019.

Then there was Trump’s quickly nominated, swiftly confirmed appointment of Amy Coney Barrett – the fifth woman ever to sit on the US Supreme Court. Days before the 2020 presidential election, Trump replaced progressive stalwart Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg with Barrett, a female judge with her own storied history of hostility toward reproductive rights.

Despite polling that suggests 77% of Americans support Roe v. Wade, there has been an uptick in anti-abortion bills at the state level in recent years and Thayer said activists are watching closely for the possibility of a direct challenge to the landmark case.

Trump’s impact on the courts will be felt for years

The former president’s nominees were overwhelmingly male, overwhelmingly white, and young on average – a purposeful move on Trump’s part to guarantee his impact on the judiciary for decades, Donohue said.

“Trump definitely exacerbated the problem and the lack of diversity in the courts, but the judiciary has never been representative of the demographic diversity of this country,” Lau said.

She’s hoping that will soon start to change.

President Joe Biden already has 72 Article III vacancies to fill, nominations Lau said she hopes will go to justices who represent diverse racial, ethnic, gender, sexual orientation, family status, disability, professional, and religious identities.

Yet the sexist double standards that female attorneys and judges regularly endure have already begun to materialize in the early confirmation process for Vanita Gupta, Biden’s progressive civil rights nominee for associate attorney general.

“You’re talking about attack ads and opposition that … say ‘oh, because someone is a woman of color they are automatically biased,'” Lau said. “Which is maddening … it’s just assumed that the white male cisgender perspective is the unbiased one.”

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Chris Christie criticizes the Trump campaign’s legal approach as ‘an absurdity’

Chris Christie
Former Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey.

  • Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Sunday criticized President Donald Trump’s legal team, calling their approach to overturn the election results “an absurdity.”
  • “It’s an absurd idea to think that any state, or any number of states, no matter how good they are, can challenge another state’s right to run the election as they see fit,” he said. 
  • In an unsigned order issued on December 11, the Supreme Court declined to hear the GOP-backed lawsuit brought by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton due to lack of standing.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Sunday criticized President Donald Trump’s legal team, calling their approach to overturn the election results “an absurdity.”

During an appearance on ABC’s “This Week,” the Republican questioned the efforts of Republicans who are contesting the election results and President-elect Joe Biden’s win without providing concrete evidence of widespread fraud in court.

“Listen, the legal theory put forward by his legal team and by the president is an absurdity,” Christie said. “The reason why the Supreme Court didn’t take it is because it’s an absurd idea to think that any state, or any number of states, no matter how good they are, can challenge another state’s right to run the election as they see fit. And also there’s no evidence.”

In an unsigned order issued on December 11, the Supreme Court rejected the lawsuit brought by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton due to lack of standing. In addition to Paxton, 17 state attorneys general and 126 Congressional Republicans had signed an amicus brief backing the lawsuit.

Host Martha Raddatz asked Christie how the Republican Party would move forward.

“People are going to have to stand up and start to say these things,” he said, “I mean, you know, the fact is in Georgia, and people should know this, that signature verification, which the president continues to tweet about, has been done twice in this election,” Christie said.

The former governor is referring to Trump’s debunked claims that ballot signatures were not verified by election officials in Georgia, a state where he lost to Biden by a little over 12,000 votes. The president has maintained that he won the state, despite the recertified results officiating Biden’s win.

Christie added: “The reason the Supreme Court is not taking this is not because of a lack of courage. It’s for the same reason that every court has thrown this out. It’s a lack of evidence and a lack of any type of legal theory that makes any sense.”

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Alan Dershowitz says Texas lawsuit tossed by Supreme Court should tell Trump’s allies that they ‘can’t count on the judiciary’ to invalidate election results

Trump, Dershowitz
Alan Dershowitz listens to President Donald Trump speak during a Hanukkah reception in the East Room of the White House in December 2019.

  • Alan Dershowitz on Sunday said that the Supreme Court’s decision to toss the Texas election lawsuit signaled a message to President Donald Trump’s camp that they “can’t count of the judiciary” to invalidate the election results, according to The Hill.
  • Dershowitz said that Trump’s campaign needed a “perfect storm” in order to invalidate the election results, with courts, governors, and state election officials aiding his cause.
  • “I suspect on Monday we will see the electors…elect Joe Biden,” he said. “Whether you like that or you don’t like it, that’s the reality that the Trump team has to face.”
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Constitutional law scholar Alan Dershowitz on Sunday said that the Supreme Court’s decision to toss the Texas election lawsuit signaled a message to President Donald Trump and his allies that they “can’t count of the judiciary” to invalidate the election results, according to The Hill.

Dershowitz spoke about the recent case that sought to overturn the results in Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania during a WABC 770 AM radio interview with New York businessman John Catsimatidis. In an unsigned order issued on Friday, the high court rejected the lawsuit due to lack of standing.

“The three justices that President Trump appointed, his three justices, voted not to hear the case,” Dershowitz said.  “I think it’s a message to him and his team that you can’t count on the judiciary, you can’t count on the courts,” he said.

During his presidency, Trump successfully installed jurists Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, which shifted the balance of the court to a 6-3 conservative majority.

He said that Trump’s campaign needed a “perfect storm” in order to invalidate the election results, with courts, governors, and state election officials aiding his cause.

However, with the Electoral College meeting on December 14, further attempts to litigate the results are even more implausible as they were after the election was called for President-elect Joe Biden in November.

Dershowitz said that state legislatures are “very, very unlikely” to help the president.

He added: “So I suspect on Monday we will see the electors…elect Joe Biden. Whether you like that or you don’t like it, that’s the reality that the Trump team has to face.”

The Trump campaign has unleashed a litany of election lawsuits across the country since the election was called for Biden, with virtually all of the litigation proving unsuccessful. Nonetheless, the president continues to spread debunked allegations of widespread voter fraud, none of which have been successfully proven in court.

The Supreme Court ruling on Friday came just days after the court declined to take up a similar Republican-backed case that focused on Pennsylvania’s election results.

Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney, told Newsmax on Friday that the campaign would present its case in district court.

“We’re not finished,” he said. “Believe me.”

Dershowitz was a member of Trump’s defense team during his impeachment trial earlier this year, where he argued that the president should not have been removed from office for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress because the charges did not constitute “high crimes.”

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