Bill to protect U.S. judges is now before the House

Chicago Tribune

A day after their chamber passed a measure to strengthen security for federal judges, Illinois' U.S. senators on Thursday urged the House to quickly approve the bill, which was inspired by the slayings of a judge's relatives last year in Chicago. The lame-duck House session is scheduled to end this week.

The proposed Court Security Improvement Act would increase penalties for people who threaten or harass judges and would allow the U.S. Marshals Service to hire new marshals to protect federal judges.

The plan would not grant permission to judges to carry concealed firearms, as many House Republicans had hoped it would. But Sen. Richard T. Durbin (D-Ill.) said he hoped House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) would push for passage of the measure anyway.

"I talked to the speaker personally a few weeks ago and thought we reached an understanding" about what the bill should do, Durbin said. "I hope he feels the same way. Time is running out and, if we're going to pass it, we'll need to do it in the closing hours."

Hastert could not be reached for comment.

The Hastert and Durbin camps clashed over the issue in the fall, as House Republicans were trying to attach the court security measure to other proposals, including several to toughen federal immigration laws and to allow judges to carry guns.

Aides to Hastert blamed Durbin, the second-ranking member of the Senate minority, for failing to win support for the total package in the Senate. Durbin's spokesman retorted that the Hastert staff was "playing politics" with the bill and said Senate Democrats had objections to some of the proposed additions.

But then Democrats prevailed in the midterm election. They will be in control after the new Congress is sworn in next month; Hastert will no longer be speaker, and Durbin will become second-in-command in the Senate.

If the measure doesn't pass this week, Durbin and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) will probably try to pass another version next year.

The proposal comes more than a year after Judge Joan Lefkow's mother and husband were killed by a litigant whose case Lefkow had dismissed. Lefkow personally appealed to a Senate committee in the spring to increase protection for judges around the country.

Last year, Durbin and Obama pushed for a provision to add $12 million to protect federal judges at home and work.

As passed by the Senate, the proposed act would make a federal crime, punishable by up to five years in prison, of the online posting of restricted personal information about federal judges with the intent of harming or threatening them or their family members. The measure would impose a sentence of up to 10 years for harassing a federal judge or law enforcement official by filing a false lien against their property.

It also would extend a provision in current law that lets federal judges delete some information from their financial disclosure forms when release of that information could endanger them or their families. Durbin said that might include the location of a judge's vacation home.

The act would authorize an additional $20 million for the U.S. Marshals Service for the protection of judges. It would allow retired police officers to carry weapons, as long as they go through regular training.

Durbin and Obama said the legislation would make judges safer to do their jobs without fear of retribution.

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