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Federal judge whose son was killed in attack says gunman targeted Sonia Sotomayor

Gunman targeted Justice Sonia Sotomayor
Federal judge whose son was killed in attack says gunman targeted Sonia Sotomayor 02:21

U.S. District Court Judge Esther Salas, whose son was killed and her husband wounded in an attack meant for her, says the gunman also had his sights on Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Salas reveals for the first time authorities found a dossier on Sotomayor in a locker used by her assailant, Roy Den Hollander, a lawyer who had a case before Salas and committed suicide after killing her son, Daniel. Salas appears in a Bill Whitaker report on the dramatic rise in the number of threats against federal judges in the U.S. to be broadcast Sunday, February 21, at 7 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.     

Her son's death sent Salas on a crusade to pass legislation that would scrub the personal information of judges off the internet. When she learned what the FBI found in the locker, she realized she was not the only one in Hollander's sights. "They found another gun, a Glock, more ammunition. But the most troubling thing they found was a manila folder with a workup on Justice Sonia Sotomayor," says Salas. She says it was chilling to see a Supreme Court member in his sights. "Who knows what could have happened? But we need to understand that judges are at risk," she tells Whitaker. "That we put ourselves in great danger every day for doing our jobs."   

Salas told 60 Minutes in the months following her son's death judges have continued to face new threats. She shared a few examples, one of them read: "'We,'" quote, 'must start killing these corrupt politicians and judges, and their families,' end quote."     

Threats to federal judges have risen 400% over the last five years to over 4,000 incidents. These include hate mail, phone harassment, protests at their homes and actual attempted murder. The U.S. Marshals, who protect federal judges, are asking for 1,000 more officers at a cost of $250 million. The new bill Salas is supporting is also asking for several million more to upgrade home security systems for judges.

Whitaker also speaks to Senior District Court Judge James Robart, whose temporary block of then-President Trump's travel ban resulted in an unprecedented 40,000 messages, including over a hundred death threats. Critics called him a "dead man walking" and posted his phone number and address on social media. President Trump then inflamed the situation by ridiculing Robart as a "so-called judge."

"When you call someone a so-called judge, what you do is you attack the judiciary… I thought he had a right to attack my decision. I don't think that criticizing a judge is acceptable," he tells Whitaker, adding the threats included harming his family.   

Investigators discovered thousands of the threats against Robart looked to be from Americans, but were actually from Russia. This doesn't surprise Suzanne Spaulding, who ran cyber security operations for Republican and Democratic administrations. "If Putin can undermine a significant segment of the population's willingness to accept a court's decision, then he can cause chaos in this country," says Spaulding.

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