Federal courts make it tougher to ‘judge-shop’, as done in the abortion pill case

Anti-abortion-rights activists strategically filed their lawsuit in a Texas court, confident that they would receive a favorable judgment from a judge sympathetic to their cause. The lawsuit aims to challenge the federal approval of the abortion pill mifepristone.

The judge in question is Matthew Kacsmaryk, who hails from Amarillo. He has a background as a conservative legal activist and was appointed by former President Donald Trump. In a subsequent ruling, he sided with the plaintiffs, which sparked criticism and led to additional legal action. Currently, the case is being reviewed by the Supreme Court.

The federal judiciary’s recent policy change will make it more challenging for lawyers at the Christian conservative Alliance Defending Freedom to employ their previous approach, known as “judge-shopping,” as demonstrated in that case.

The U.S. Judicial Conference has recently approved a new policy during its biannual meeting. This policy aims to enhance the fairness and impartiality of the judicial system. Under this policy, any cases that seek to challenge state or federal policies in federal district courts will be assigned randomly from larger pools of judges. This change is expected to prevent the selection of judges based on their potential biases or preconceived notions, resulting in a more equitable and unbiased judicial process.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, expressed his satisfaction with the decision after having previously raised concerns regarding the matter.

In a statement, he expressed concern over the practice of judge shopping, which allows MAGA-right plaintiffs to manipulate and bypass our federal judiciary. By strategically selecting courts that are likely to have a judge sympathetic to their cause, they are able to obtain rulings in their favor.

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The mifepristone challenge case highlighted the ability of lawyers to exploit inconsistencies in the assignment of cases to judges across the 94 federal districts.

In certain districts, cases are assigned randomly, but there are smaller subdivisions within some districts where the choice of judge may be limited. This is the case in the Amarillo division of the Northern District of Texas, where Kacsmaryk currently presides.

The issue of lawyers having the ability to select judges of their choice has been a longstanding concern, dating back to at least the 1990s. However, the attention on this phenomenon has been reignited by the rise in nationwide injunctions that have been issued in recent years.

During the Obama administration, and continuing through the Trump and Biden administrations, it has become increasingly common for a single district court judge to halt a nationwide policy on various matters, ranging from immigration to Covid-19 vaccination mandates.

Texas has seen a surge in the number of cases filed during the Biden administration.

The new policy has been met with silence from the Justice Department, as they declined to comment on it.

Judge Jeffrey Sutton, chair of the executive committee of the Judicial Conference, acknowledged that there were valid justifications for the existence of single-judge divisions, as he spoke to reporters.

According to him, this implies that local judges would have the authority to oversee local cases.

According to him, when a case challenges a national or statewide policy, it goes beyond the boundaries of a small town or division.

According to Sutton, in a situation like that, it would be more logical to randomly assign a judge from a larger pool.

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According to the Judicial Conference, the policy will be applicable to cases that involve state or federal laws, rules, regulations, policies, or executive branch orders.

The conference stated that judges would be provided with guidance on how to assign cases.

The policy does not bar lawsuits from being filed in districts where the judges tend to lean one way or the other. For instance, in the Northern District of Texas, where most judges are Republican appointees, their rulings are subject to review by the conservative-majority 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

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