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Texas federal court district rebuffs effort to curb ‘judge-shopping’ tactic

A federal trial court in Texas commonly targeted by litigants as a way to guarantee a conservative judge will hear their case is rebuffing the push by US judiciary’s policy-making body to rein in the tactic, known as “judge-shopping.”

The US District Court of the Northern District of Texas has decided not to adopt a proposal that would change how cases with statewide or nationwide implications are assigned, Chief Judge David Godbey told Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, in a recent letter.

Judge-shopping is the practice of strategically filing cases in courthouses where the lawsuits are almost guaranteed to be heard by judges perceived to be sympathetic to the litigants. It has been on the rise in recent years, particularly in Texas, where there are several individual courthouses – known as divisions – where just one or two judges hear all the cases that are filed there.

The US District Court in Northern Texas currently assigns cases in a way that any case filed in its Amarillo Division is automatically assigned to Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, an appointee of former President Donald Trump who has become a go-to judge for parties filing lawsuits challenging President Joe Biden’s policies.

Kacsmaryk issued the ruling that would have suspended the FDA’s approval of medication abortion drugs and has also blocked other Biden administration initiatives.

The March 29 letter from Godbey, an appointee of George W. Bush, is a response to a request by Schumer that his court implement a new case assignment proposal recommended by the Judicial Conference, the federal judiciary’s policy-making body. The conference recommended last month that any lawsuit seeking a nationwide or statewide order be randomly assigned among a district-wide pool of judges, even if it was filed in a single-judge division.

The trial judges in his district had met last week to discuss case assignments, and, Godbey wrote, “The consensus was not to make any change to our case assignment process at this time.”

Godbey’s letter to Schumer was first reported by Law360.

Schumer said in a statement Monday that it was “unfortunate” that the judges in Texas’ northern district “have decided to continue to allow the odious practice of judge shopping.”

“The Senate will consider legislative options that put an end to this misguided practice,” Schumer said.

Texas has other US district courts with single-judge divisions, in addition to Amarillo, where challenges to the Biden administration agenda are frequently funneled through.

Chief judges of those districts have not responded to inquiries CNN has submitted to their chambers about any changes to their case assignment policies, though some of those courts had previously made changes to case assignment protocols for patent disputes after judge-shopping tactics in those cases attracted scrutiny.

The Judicial Conference announced after an early March meeting that it was seeking to curb the practice of judge-shopping with the new case assignment policy. The announcement prompted blowback from Republican senators, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who argued that any mandated policy would run afoul of a statute passed by Congress that gives each district court the discretion to design its case assignment protocols.

When the Judicial Conference released the formal guidance days later, it indicated that the districtwide assignment policy was recommended, but optional.

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