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The safety of judges is “essential” to the court system, according to Chief Justice John Roberts.

WASHINGTON (AP) — With security threats to Supreme Court justices still fresh in his mind, Chief Justice John Roberts praised judge-protection programmes on Saturday, saying that “we must support judges by ensuring their safety.”

After the May leak of the court’s decision, which ultimately removed constitutional protections for abortion, Roberts and other conservative Supreme Court justices faced protests, some at their homes. According to Justice Samuel Alito, the leak made conservative justices “targets for assassination.” In June, a man armed with a gun, a knife, and zip ties was apprehended near Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s home after threatening to kill the justice, whose vote was critical in overturning the court’s Roe v. Wade decision.

Roberts did not specifically mention the abortion decision in his annual year-end report on the federal judiciary, but the case and the reaction to it seemed to be on his mind.

“Judicial opinions speak for themselves, and in our free country, there is no obligation to agree with them. Indeed, we judges frequently dissent from our colleagues’ opinions, sometimes strongly, and we explain why in public writings about the cases before us,” Roberts wrote.

Polls conducted in the aftermath of the abortion decision show that public trust in the court is at an all-time low. And Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, two of Roberts’ liberal colleagues who dissented in the abortion case, have said the court should be concerned about overturning precedent and appearing political.

Following the leak and threat to Kavanaugh, lawmakers passed legislation to beef up security for the justices and their families. Separately, lawmakers passed legislation in December to protect federal judges’ personal information, including their addresses.

The law is named after Daniel Anderl, the son of U.S. District Judge Esther Salas, who was killed at the family’s New Jersey home by a man who previously had a case before her.

Roberts expressed gratitude to members of Congress “who are attending to judicial security needs.” He also stated that programmes to protect judges are “essential to running a court system.”

In a piece about judicial security, Roberts told the story of Judge Ronald N. Davies, who ordered the integration of Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas in September 1957. Davies’ decision came after the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that segregated schools were unconstitutional, and it rejected Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus’ attempt to halt school integration.

Davies was “physically threatened for following the law,” but the judge was “unfazed,” according to Roberts.

“A judicial system cannot and should not be terrified. “The events of Little Rock demonstrate the importance of rule by law rather than mob rule,” he wrote.

Officials are currently working to recreate the courtroom in which Davies presided in 1957, according to Roberts. The judge’s bench used by Davies, as well as other courtroom artefacts, have been preserved and will be installed in the re-created courtroom in a federal courthouse in Little Rock “so that these important artefacts can be used to hold court once more,” according to Roberts.

However, before that happens, the judge’s bench will be on display at the Supreme Court as part of an exhibit beginning in the fall and lasting several years, he said.

“The exhibit will introduce visitors to how the federal court system works, our country’s history of racial segregation and desegregation, and Thurgood Marshall’s towering contributions as an advocate,” Roberts said. Marshall became the Supreme Court’s first Black justice in 1967, after arguing Brown v. Board of Education.

The Supreme Court is still dealing with difficult racial issues. This term, the court’s conservative majority is expected to use two affirmative action cases to overturn decades of decisions that allow colleges to consider race in admissions. In another case, the justices could weaken the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, the civil rights movement’s crown jewel.

On January 9, 2023, the justices will hear their first arguments of the year.

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