Schumer calls for Texas court to reform rules amid 'judge shopping' claims

Senate resumes
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By Jacqueline Thomsen

(Reuters) - Top U.S. Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer on Thursday warned the chief judge of a Texas federal court in a letter that Congress could intervene unless he agrees "to reform the method of assigning cases to judges" in the district.

Schumer told U.S. Chief District Judge David Godbey of the Northern District of Texas, where plaintiffs have frequently sued to challenge Biden administration policies, that they have taken advantage of the rules "to hand-pick individual district judges seen as particularly sympathetic to their claims."

Godbey did not immediately return a request for comment.

Schumer pointed to the court's rules assigning civil cases filed in certain court divisions to one judge. U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, appointed by Republican former U.S. President Donald Trump, is one such judge: Any cases filed in his Amarillo division are automatically assigned to him.

That includes the recent legal challenge to the Biden administration's approval of the abortion pill mifepristone. Kacsmaryk earlier this month ruled to suspend approval of the medication, but the U.S. Supreme Court last week blocked those restrictions, leaving the pill accessible for now.

A federal statute allows individual district courts to determine how their cases are assigned. Schumer's letter said other courts have rules to randomly assign district judges to cases across divisions.

If plaintiffs are allowed to "hand-pick their preferred judges and effectively guarantee their preferred outcomes, Congress will consider more prescriptive requirements," Schumer wrote.

Complaints of "judge shopping" have grown since Kacsmaryk's ruling in the abortion pill case and other cases related to Biden's policy agenda.

Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono on Wednesday introduced legislation that would require lawsuits affecting national policies to be relegated to the federal trial court in Washington, citing such concerns.

The Biden administration has accused Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton of judge shopping, including in a lawsuit challenging last year's $1.7 trillion federal government funding law.

Paxton's office is fighting an effort to transfer the case from the Northern District of Texas to Washington or Austin, the state's capital. The judge in that case has not yet ruled on the motion.

(Reporting by Jacqueline Thomsen)