U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) blocked a bill that would prevent data brokers from selling or otherwise trading in the personal identifying information of federal judges spurred by the attempted assassination of U.S. District Court Judge Esther Salas.
Rand sought to amend the bill — dubbed Daniel Anderl Judicial Security and Privacy Act after Salas’s son, who was slain during the attack — to include similar protections for members of Congress. Mark Anderl, Salas’s husband, was wounded in the attack but has since recovered.
“I really think that this is important that we protect addresses for our judges, but it’s also important that we do this for our elected officials,” he said, citing the attempted assassinations of Reps. Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.) in 2011 and Steve Scalise (R-La.) in 2017.
U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-Newark), who also spoke in favor of unamended version of the bill from the Senate floor, has previously required additional police protection after receiving credible death threats.
The Republican’s amendment included other provisions that U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-North Bergen), the bill’s prime sponsor in the chamber, said were a poison pill.
The New Jersey lawmaker worried about barriers to legal action judges can take against data providers who refuse to take down or stop selling their information.
“Without the threat of some damages, there’s little incentive for a data broker to remove the personally identifying information of a judge and his or her family,” Menendez said. “This is not about frivolous suits. This is about protecting the federal judiciary.”
The bill, which closely mirrors a law recently signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy, had already seen some revisions Menendez said were made to appease Republican colleagues.
A provision providing grants to states to enforce the program was scuttled in favor of a study to see whether such grants were needed because of Republican objections. Those grants would have covered administrative costs states would face when scrubbing documents, like property records, that contained judges’ personal information.
The GOP also sought to curtail additional funding sought by the U.S. Marshals Service, though Menendez refused to cede ground there.
“It never seems to be enough, and it’s unfortunate that the federal judiciary will pay the price of this recalcitrance,” he said.
Paul suggested the other concerns — those not related to protections for members of Congress — could be worked out.
“We are willing to compromise with the senator from New Jersey. We are willing to work with him on getting the bill passed,” he said. “The only thing that we would like to do is have it include Congress as well. The other points you mentioned that you object to as far as changing, I’d be willing to discuss, and I think there would be a middle ground.”
But the reality is a little more complicate than that. If the bill is to move through unanimous consent agreement — it’s not likely to move through regular means — any senator could unilaterally block it, as Paul did Wednesday.
“An independent judiciary in which judges can render decisions without fear of retribution and violence is essential to the integrity of our democracy,” Menendez said. “Indeed, the idea that any judge at any level of government could be intimidated undermines the very concept of the rule of law.”