Lax rules that allow plaintiffs to hand-pick judges have allowed activist conservative jurists to legislate from the bench to the detriment of the country.
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Because justice is not actually blind, some plaintiffs carefully choose where they file lawsuits to guarantee that a sympathetic judge will hear their case.
This so-called judge-shopping, which Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) calls a “complete perversion of the intent of the judiciary,” is especially problematic when the issues that the courts rule on have major repercussions for the entire country.
Now, Senate Democrats want to put an end to this practice.
In a letter sent to Judge Robin Rosenberg, who is the chair of the rule-making committee for the Judicial Conference, Schumer and 18 other senators said that if the judiciary does not address the problem itself, then Congress may have to step in.
As the administrative governing body of the federal court system in the US, the Judicial Conference could try to implement much-needed changes that would prevent plaintiffs from getting to hand-pick their judges.
In their letter to Rosenberg, the lawmakers point to the Northern District of Texas as a prominent example that shows the impact that judge-shopping can have on the country as a whole.
“The State of Texas itself has sued the Biden Administration at least 31 times in Texas federal district courts, but it has not filed even one of those cases in Austin, where the Texas Attorney General’s office is located,” the senators wrote.
Instead, the state has sued seven of its cases against the federal government in the Northern District’s Amarillo Division.
There is a good reason for this.
Filing the lawsuits there guaranteed that the case is heard by US District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, who recently ruled to suspend the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of an abortion drug.
While conservatives love to rail against “activist judges,” jurists like Kacsmaryk are very clearly trying to legislate from the bench, and his ideological allies know they can find a sympathetic ear in his courtroom.
The senators point out that “nothing requires any district to let plaintiffs choose their judges like this.” While acknowledging that there may be valid reasons for assigning judges to specific venues, the lawmakers argue that these have to be “balanced against unfairness in judicial process.”
An easy solution would be to change how districts assign judges to specific cases.
Noting that the Judicial Conference is required to make recommendations to ensure that courts across the country are managed uniformly, the senators ask Rosenberg to come up with ways to “address this problem and restore fairness to our federal judiciary.”
Otherwise, the Democrats indicated that they would have to get involved because the issue is too serious to be ignored.
“Without reforms, these activist judges will continue to impose their will on the country and offer flawed and chaotic rulings on abortion access, LGBTQ+ protections, legal immigration, and climate legislation,” Schumer said.
Originally published July 12, 2023; updated July 13, 2023.