A crackdown on ‘judge shopping’ provoked a rather telling Republican reaction

In a letter to the chief judges of all 94 federal district courts on Thursday, the senators urged those jurists to ignore the new policy — which they laid at the feet of Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer — because, in their view, these judges should ignore “partisan battles in Washington, D.C.” But it’s judge shopping itself, not efforts by the judiciary to rein it in, that have become a “partisan battle.” The McConnell/Cornyn/Tillis letter, ironically, only drives that point home.

By way of background, every state has at least one federal district court; some states have as many as four — staffed by somewhere between two and 28 active judges (along with “senior” judges, many of whom still hear cases). To help ensure that litigants don’t have to travel too far to reach their nearest federal courthouse, district courts are further subdivided — so that, in Texas, for instance, the four district courts have a total of 27 divisions. Because of these variations, district courts have long been left to their own devices to decide how to divide cases. And in some parts of the country, especially Texas, the result has been to allow a single judge to hear every case filed in a particular division.

Although this reality isn’t new, plaintiffs have increasingly taken advantage of these “single-judge” divisions to steer nationwide federal policy challenges to specific, ideologically sympathetic judges. For example, the nationwide challenge to the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of mifepristone (one of two drugs used in the most common and safest abortion procedure) was filed in Amarillo, Texas — not a courthouse with any specific connection to mifepristone, but one in which it had a 100% chance of being assigned to a certain Trump-appointed district judge, former anti-abortion advocate Matthew Kacsmaryk. Kacsmaryk remarkably, if predictably, ruled against the FDA’s approval of the drug — an approval that occurred 23 years ago.


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