Hundreds of federal judges face the same task every day: review an affidavit submitted by federal agents and approve requests for a search warrant. But for U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart, the fallout from his decision to approve a search warrant has been far from routine.
He has faced a storm of death threats since his signature earlier this month cleared the way for the FBI to search former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate as part of a probe into whether he inappropriately removed sensitive materials from the White House. Reinhart’s home address was posted on right-wing sites, along with antisemitic slurs. The South Florida synagogue he attends canceled its Friday night Shabbat services in the wake of the uproar.
Trump has done little to lower the temperature among his supporters, decrying the search as political persecution and calling on Reinhart to recuse himself in the case because he has previously made political donations to Democrats. Reinhart has also, however, contributed to Republicans.
The threats against Reinhart are part of a broader attack on law enforcement, particularly the FBI, by Trump and his allies in the aftermath of the search. But experts warn that the focus on a judge, coming amid an uptick in threats to the judiciary in general, is dangerous for the rule of law in the U.S. and the country’s viability as a democracy….
The increased targeting of judges comes as trust in public institutions plummets and partisan rhetoric escalates. It’s part of a pattern that Steven Levitsky has seen before.
“This is a classic precursor of a democratic breakdown,” said Levitsky, a Harvard political scientist and co-author of How Democracies Die. “To call this a warning sign is an understatement.”
Trump’s initial presidential campaign — during which he personally condemned a judge who ruled against him in a lawsuit over his now-defunct Trump University — changed the ground rules governing threats and explosive rhetoric, said Matthew Weil, executive director of the Democracy Initiative at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, DC.
“There are threats everywhere now, it’s become more normalized because he changed what was allowed in public discourse,” Weil said, who said both the right and the left have turned to threatening the judicial branch.