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April 08, 2024

Statement of ABA President Mary Smith Re: Attacks on judges

CHICAGO, April 8, 2024 — Our courts and judges are under attack. Serious threats against judges have doubled since 2019, with 457 serious threats targeting federal judges across the country in 2023. National leaders and private citizens are making false statements and scurrilous accusations against judges for partisan, personal gain. These attacks are no idle matter.  Often, they involve threats of physical harm or death — not only to the judges, but also to their families and staff. 

Threats against the very individuals we have appointed or elected to administer our judicial system and the rule of law are not only wrong, they also threaten the very fabric of our democracy — judicial independence and the rule of law. All lawyers are bound by ethical rules based on the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct. These rules prohibit lawyers from making false statements about the qualifications or integrity of a judge. Based on these rules, and to maintain the fair and independent administration of justice, lawyers also are encouraged to defend judges and courts that are unjustly criticized.

In 2018 the ABA Standing Committee on the American Judicial System issued a call to action — a report titled “Rapid Response to Fake News, Misleading Statements and Unjust Criticism of the Judiciary — urging lawyers to stand up and correct the public record when courts are unfairly attacked. The report states:

“Bar associations have a special responsibility to ensure that the public holds the judiciary in the highest esteem. Judges are, and should be, highly respected leaders of our legal system… Inaccurate, unjustified, and simply false criticisms of judges should be answered promptly and fully. The bar associations must take a leading role in responding to such criticisms.”

I urge all members of the American Bar Association as well as other bar association leaders and lawyers nationwide to rededicate themselves to preserving our nation’s impartial system of justice. Every one of us must stand up for our judges and their staffs and engage in the civic education needed to help the public understand how our courts work, the crucial role of independent judges in a functioning democracy and why their integrity must be defended and their safety ensured.

As lawyers, it is also incumbent on us to teach our fellow Americans how to take appropriate actions should they disagree with court opinions. For example, people involved in litigation who are unhappy with a court’s decision can file an appeal to a higher court for review by a different impartial decision maker. Members of the public who are dissatisfied with a court’s decision can organize a community meeting, write to newspapers and websites, petition Congress or their state legislature to change laws, support a citizens’ initiative or undertake the simple act of voting.

These are extraordinary times. As lawyers, we have a unique duty to lead our nation in the protection of our judges, the rule of law and American democracy. The time has come to rededicate ourselves to our obligations.

The ABA is the largest voluntary association of lawyers in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law. View our privacy statement online. Follow the latest ABA news at and on X (formerly Twitter) @ABANews.