Civil rights, abortion groups urge US judiciary to end ‘judge shopping’

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  • Civil rights, abortion, immigration groups ask Texas judges to end practice
  • Brennan Center has asked federal judiciary to end practice nationally

Sept 12 (Reuters) – The federal judiciary is facing new calls from civil rights, abortion and immigration advocates to end the practice of “judge shopping” by state attorneys general and activists who sue over government policies in courthouses where a single judge seen as likely sympathetic to their cases is almost guaranteed to hear their lawsuits.

Nine groups led by the National Immigration Law Center in letters on Tuesday to the chief judges of Texas’ four federal district courts, where many Biden administration policies have been challenged, asked them to amend local rules to ensure certain cases are not assigned to the judge in the courthouse a case was filed in.

The rules in Texas’ federal districts virtually guarantee civil cases in single-judge divisions will be assigned to those lone judges, short circuiting the typical presumption that cases filed in federal court will be assigned a random judge.

The groups asked the chief judges to alter the districts’ standing orders to provide for the random, district-wide assignment of any cases brought by a state that seeks to enjoin or vacate federal statutes or agency actions.

The letters were joined by the American Federation of Teachers; Catholics for Choice; Impact Fund; NARAL Pro-Choice America; National Immigrant Justice Center; People For the American Way; Project On Government Oversight; and Reproaction.

The letters came days after the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School asked federal judicial policymakers to adopt a similar rule on a nationwide basis.

That Sept. 1 proposal has been referred to the Judicial Conference’s Advisory Committee on Civil Rules, which holds its next meeting on Oct. 17.

The groups’ proposals add to calls by Democratic lawmakers and the American Bar Association for the judiciary to eliminate case assignment mechanisms that allow litigants to effectively choose their judges in cases challenging government policies. The Biden administration has also raised concerns.

That tactic gained national attention after conservative litigants filed a lawsuit before U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk in the single-judge division of Amarillo, Texas, seeking to suspend approval of the abortion pill mifepristone, which he ordered in April.

Kacsmaryk, an appointee of former Republican President Donald Trump, was previously a conservative Christian legal activist involved in anti-abortion causes. The U.S. Supreme Court has allowed the pill to remain on the market pending the outcome of appeals.

Others, who critics say have engaged in judge shopping, include Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who is suspended pending the outcome of impeachment proceedings. Paxton has brought 34 lawsuits against the Biden administration challenging immigration and other policies.

All of those cases have been filed in divisions with three or fewer judges where the state is virtually guaranteed to avoid judges appointed by Democratic presidents, the National Immigration Law Center said in Tuesday’s letters.

Read more:

Trump-appointed judge rejects ‘judge shopping’ claims in spending law case

Abortion pill case spurs US Democrats’ ‘judge shopping’ bill

Biden administration accuses Texas of ‘judge shopping’ spending law case

Texas judge in abortion pill lawsuit often rules for conservatives

Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Nate Raymond reports on the federal judiciary and litigation. He can be reached at nate.raymond@thomsonreuters.com.

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