Conservative Texas District Court Won’t Implement Anti-Judge Shopping Policy

The chief judge of the Northern District of Texas indicated the court will not follow new guidance, while a lower court judge called out a pro-business group’s use of “judge shopping.”

By Julia Conley. Published 3-31-2024 by Common Dreams

Shopping for judges by right-wing crusaders undermines public trust.. Screenshot: CNN

Right-wing groups will still be able to pick and choose the judges who hear their cases in one of the most conservative federal court districts in the United States, following a decision by the Northern District of Texas on Friday that goes against new anti-“judge shopping” guidance.

Chief U.S. District Judge David Godbey of the Northern District wrote in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer that the court would not abide by new guidance from the Judicial Conference, which said earlier this month that the court system should randomly assign lawsuits to any judge throughout the district where they’re filed.

“The consensus was not to make any change to our case assignment process at this time,” wrote Godbey, an appointee of former President George W. Bush.

The policy, announced on March 12, would require lawsuits that challenge federal or state laws to be assigned to a judge randomly throughout a federal district rather than staying in the specific smaller division where they were initially filed, a practice known as “judge shopping” or “venue shopping.”

The practice has garnered scrutiny in recent months as right-wing groups have filed numerous lawsuits in the court of Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, who presides over a federal court in Amarillo, Texas—also in the state’s Northern District.

Kacsmaryk, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, ruled last year that the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of mifepristone, a drug used for medication abortion, should be suspended. The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in an appeal last week, and the justices signaled that they were unlikely to impose new restrictions on the medication.

After Republican lawmakers wrote to federal judges telling them to disregard the Judicial Conference’s guidance—which the body noted is discretionary—Schumer called on the courts to apply the new reforms to stop “extremists” from handpicking judges.

Godbey’s letter signaled that the court will continue allowing conservative plaintiffs to select the venue where their cases are heard.

Judiciary observers noted that another judge in the Northern District—Mark Pittman in the Fort Worth division—suggested that chief judges may not have the final word on whether judge shopping continues to be tolerated.

Pittman, who was also appointed by Trump, ruled that a case filed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other banking industry groups against the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) should be transferred to a federal court in Washington, D.C.

The judge agreed with the CFPB, which had argued the banking lobby had filed its lawsuit over the bureau’s slashing of credit card late fees in the Northern District of Texas in order to secure a favorable ruling.

“Venue is not a continental breakfast; you cannot pick and choose on a plaintiff’s whim where and how a lawsuit is filed,” said Pittman. “Federal courts have consistently cautioned against such behavior.”

“Even the judges you least expect,” said David Dayen of The American Prospect, “are pissed at being pawns in a conservative game.”

This work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). 

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