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Schumer Urges Texas District Targeted For Right-Wing Lawsuits To Adopt New Rules Against Judge-Shopping

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) urged a key federal judge in Texas to quickly adopt new limits on plaintiffs’ ability to choose the judge who will oversee their case, also known as judge-shopping, in a letter on Thursday.

“I write to you today encouraging the District Court for the Northern District of Texas to implement the Judicial Conference’s new policy regarding judge shopping as soon as possible,” Schumer wrote in a letter to Chief Judge David Godbey on Thursday.

The Northern District of Texas has been at the epicenter of the controversial practice. Conservatives have been sending lawsuits aiming to block President Joe Biden’s policies to single-judge courthouses in the district — often a specific one in Amarillo, Texas — with the intent of getting their cases before judges known to be conservative activists.

The lone judge in Amarillo, for example, is Matthew Kacsmaryk, a Trump-appointee who previously worked as an activist for the religious right. In recent months and years, Kacsmaryk has issued nationwide injunctions blocking Biden administration immigration policies as well as, notably, the distribution of the abortion drug mifepristone through the mail.

The Judicial Conference of the United States, a federal judicial rule-making body, issued new rules to put a stop to this practice on March 12. Those rules urge federal district courts to use random selection for judges on cases where a plaintiff seeks a statewide or nationwide injunction on a federal policy, rather than automatically sending them to a specific judge. However, district courts retain “discretion” on how to adopt the new rules, the conference clarified after issuing them.

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) urged the chief judge of the Northern District of Texas courts to adopt recent rules aimed at preventing judge-shopping.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) urged the chief judge of the Northern District of Texas courts to adopt recent rules aimed at preventing judge-shopping. Chip Somodevilla via Getty Images

Schumer’s statement follows criticism of the rules from conservatives, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). In his own letter to Godbey sent on March 14, McConnell urged the Northern Texas district court to ignore the new Judicial Conference rules.

“Whatever the Judicial Conference thinks you ought to do, what you actually choose to do is left to your court’s discretion under the law,” McConnell wrote in a letter, joined by two other GOP senators.

Schumer’s letter makes the opposite request, urging the court to adopt the new rules. Noting his previous correspondence with Godbey on the judge-shopping issue, Schumer states that the new rules resolve Godbey’s prior concerns that adopting random selection of judges in such a “geographically large” district posed “logistical challenges.”

“The Judicial Conference’s new policy requires random assignment for—to use your phrase—just ‘a small slice of civil cases’: only those civil actions seeking to bar or mandate statewide or nationwide enforcement of a state or federal law,” Schumer wrote. “Accordingly, it is not clear that implementing this updated policy would present any of the ‘logistical challenges’ in your district that you mentioned or harm any of the considerations you raised previously in your letter.”

Schumer went on to note that federal courts in the Western District of Texas, which is similar in geographic size to the Northern District, successfully adopted random selection of judges for patent cases in 2022.

In addition, Schumer sought answers from Godbey by April 4 on whether and when the court would adopt the new judge-shopping rules, as well as how many lawsuits the district sees that seek statewide or nationwide injunctions and whether the new rules will require judges to travel.

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