The Volokh Conspiracy

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Federal Judge's Son Killed and Husband Injured by Men's Rights Activist Lawyer

Threats Against Federal Judges on the Rise


As many legal observers have followed in the news, Judge Esther Salas–the first Hispanic woman to be appointed as a federal district court judge in New Jersey–and her family became the victims of a horrific crime on Sunday evening when a gunman shot and killed her twenty-year-old son and injured her attorney husband. The main suspect, who shot himself shortly after these events, was a self-described "anti-feminist lawyer" seeking to protect "men's rights". He left behind hundreds of pages of misogynistic and racist rants, some of which are detailed here.

The suspect seems to have had a particular distaste for Latina women, which provides potentially relevant background for his crime against a judge in front of whom he argued but who actually allowed some of his claims to proceed. He also appears to have been diagnosed with terminal cancer, which some speculate may have played a role as well when linked to his writings suggesting "Things begin to change when individual men start taking out those specific persons responsible for destroying their lives before committing suicide."

While there has been previous violence against judges and their families, such as the 2005 murder of Judge Joan Lefkow's husband and mother in Chicago, the attack on Judge Salas' home stands at the intersection of two trends worth noting. One is the increased domestic terrorism threat posed by the involuntary celibate (incel) movement whose ideas seem to have resonated with the suspect here. The other trend is the generally rising number of threats against members of the federal judiciary, which has experienced an almost five-fold increase from 2015 to 2019. Query the effect of President Trump's frequent inflammatory attacks on individual judges and courts, some of which are collected here. Endangering judges imperils democracy as a whole.