Judge-weighted abortion pill is a favorite among conservatives
WASHINGTON (AP) – A Texas judge handling a case that could jeopardize access to the nation’s most common abortion method is a former attorney for a Christian legal group who critics say is being sought out by conservative litigants because they believe he will be sympathetic to their causes.
U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, who is considering a lawsuit aimed at putting a nationwide stop to the use of the drug mifepristone, was appointed by President Donald Trump and confirmed in 2019 amid stiff opposition from Democrats over his record against LGBTQ rights . Mifepristone blocks the hormone progesterone in the body and is used together with the drug misoprostol to end the pregnancy within the first 10 weeks.
Kacsmaryk hears arguments in the case on Wednesdayjust days after he took the unusual step of telling lawyers during a status conference not to publicize the hearing because the case has prompted death threats and protests, and he believed ” fewer advertisements t of this hearing is better.”
A former federal prosecutor and attorney for the conservative First Liberty Institute, the judge has ruled against the Biden administration on other issues, including immigration. He was among more than 230 judges appointed to the federal bench under Trump as part of a move by the Republican president and Senate conservatives to shift the US judiciary to the right.
Interest groups have long tried to bring lawsuits before judges they see as friendly to their views. But the number of conservative lawsuits filed in Kacsmaryk’s Amarillo courthouse — where he is affiliated all new cases as the sole district court judge — has spawned accusations that right-wing plaintiffs are seeking him out because they know he’s likely to side with them.
“Why are all these lawsuits being filed in Amarillo if the litigants who are filing them are so confident in the strength of their claims? It’s not because Amarillo is convenient to get to,” said University of Texas law professor Stephen Vladeck. “I think it should concern the judges themselves that litigants are so transparently and shamelessly sending cases to their courtroom.”
If Kacsmaryk rules against the drug, the Food and Drug Administration – which has approved the use of mifepristone – is expected to quickly appeal the verdict. Clinics have said they could continue to use another drug alone to terminate pregnancies if necessary, but that approach is slightly less effective.
During his confirmation hearings, Kacsmaryk told lawmakers that it would be “inappropriate” for a judge to allow their religious beliefs to influence a legal issue. He promised to “faithfully apply all Supreme Court precedent.”
“As a judicial candidate, I do not serve as a legislator. I do not serve as an attorney for advice. I follow the law as it is written, not as I would have it written,” Kacsmaryk said at the time.
Before the abortion pill case, Kacsmaryk was at the center of a legal battle over the Trumps “Remain in Mexico” policy, which required tens of thousands of migrants seeking asylum to wait in Mexico for hearings in US immigration court.
In 2021, he ordered the policy reinstated in response to a lawsuit filed by the states of Texas and Missouri. The US Supreme Court overruled him, saying the Biden administration could end the policy, which it did last August. But in December, Kacsmaryk ruled that the administration failed to follow federal rulemaking guidelines when it ended the practice, an issue the Supreme Court did not address.
He has also ruled that minors can get free birth control without parental consent at federally funded clinics violated the rights of the parents and Texas law.
In other cases, he has ruled that the Biden administration wrongly interpreted a section of the Affordable Care Act as prohibiting health care providers from discriminating against people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. And he joined Texas in ruling against Biden administration guidance that said employers can’t block workers from using a bathroom that matches their gender identity.
In another case — brought by states challenging a Labor Department rule — the Justice Department wrote in a recent lawsuit that “there is no apparent reason — other than judge shopping” explaining why the lawsuit was filed in Amarillo.
Kacsmaryk’s decisions have been “consistent with what many conservatives hoped for and many progressives feared,” said Daniel Bennett, an associate professor at John Brown University in Arkansas who wrote a book about the conservative Christian legal movement. . “This is not a judge who is necessarily going to ride the fence.”
Kacsmaryk’s opponents said his previous writings and legal work revealed extremist views and antipathy toward gays and transgender people. In articles before he was nominated, he wrote critically about the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, which established a nationwide right to abortion, and the Obergefell decision, which legalized same-sex marriage nationally.
In 2015, he has slammed an effort to enact federal protections of gender identity and sexual orientation, writing that it would “do nothing to Americans who continue to believe and seek to practice their millennia-old religious belief that marriage and sexual relations are reserved for the union of a man and a woman.”
A year later, he signed a letter citing another article which describes “the belief that one is trapped in the body of the wrong sex” as a “fixed, irrational belief” that is “appropriately described as a delusion. “
Republican US Senator Susan Collins of Maine was among them who opposed Kacsmaryk’s nomination citing what she described as an “alarming bias against the rights of LGBTQ Americans and disregard for Supreme Court precedent.”
Kacsmaryk’s defenders say he has been unfairly maligned.
Mike Davis, founder of the Article III Project, a conservative legal advocacy group, said Kacsmaryk has shown no evidence of bias on the bench. He noted that Kacsmaryk was deemed “qualified” by the American Bar Association, meaning he met what the group describes as “very high standards of integrity, professional competence and judicial temperament.”
“These allegations that he is biased are completely unfounded and they unfairly confuse his legal advocacy with bigotry,” Davis said. “These Democratic politicians are sending a message to Christians and other believers that they are not allowed in the public square.”
Before joining the bench, Kacsmaryk worked as an assistant US attorney in Texas and was involved in cases such as the prosecution of Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari, the former Texas Tech University student from Saudi Arabia convicted in a failed bomb plot.
In 2014, Kacsmaryk joined the First Liberty Institute, which calls itself the “largest legal organization in the nation dedicated solely to defending religious liberty for all Americans.” Kacsmaryk noted during his confirmation process that the group has represented all faiths.
Among the lawsuits he defended as the institute’s deputy general counsel was an Oregon bakery that refused to provide a cake for a same-sex wedding couple.
“Obviously, his decisions have been really disappointing to progressives and people on the left and very gratifying to those on the right,” Bennett said. “But that’s kind of the nature of our judiciary right now, especially with these hot-button issues.”
Richer reported from Boston.