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Mitch McConnell Urges Courts To Ignore New Rules Meant To Prevent 'Judge-Shopping'

Senate Republicans attacked new rules released by a federal judicial rule-making body on Wednesday preventing the practice of “judge-shopping,” which conservatives have used to ensure they get a favorable hearing when trying to strike down Biden administration policies.

The new rules issued by the Judicial Conference of the United States ― a 26-member body that oversees the federal judiciary ― say that if a case seeks a national injunction to reverse or block a federal government policy, it must be randomly assigned to a judge within the district court in which the case was filed.

The conference is led by Chief Justice John Roberts, and consists of the chief judges of each circuit court of appeals as well as representatives from the district courts.

“This was an unforced error by the Judicial Conference. I hope they will reconsider,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a Senate floor speech on Thursday. “And I hope district courts throughout the country will instead weigh what is best for their jurisdictions, not half-baked ‘guidance’ that just does Washington Democrats’ bidding.”

The new rules put forward by the conference followed years of controversy over the practice of judge-shopping exploited by conservatives. Conservative activist groups and GOP attorneys general have increasingly directed their lawsuits against Biden administration policies to single-judge geographical divisions in Texas where they know they will get a sympathetic hearing.

"This was an unforced error by the Judicial Conference. I hope they will reconsider," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on Mar. 14. <span class="copyright">Tom Williams via Getty Images</span>
"This was an unforced error by the Judicial Conference. I hope they will reconsider," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on Mar. 14. Tom Williams via Getty Images

In particular, conservatives have repeatedly filed suit on issues of national importance in the Amarillo, Texas, federal courthouse in the Northern Texas federal district. That’s because the Amarillo courthouse has only one judge: the conservative activist and Trump appointee Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk.

Kacsmaryk has consistently sided with conservatives in a series of highly controversial decisions that are often overturned on appeal. In 2021, he prevented the Biden administration from ending former President Donald Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” immigration policy. That was eventually overturned by the Supreme Court. And, most notably, he issued a nationwide injunction blocking the distribution of the abortion drug mifepristone. That decision was put on hold by the Supreme Court as it hears arguments on appeal.

In addition to his floor speech, McConnell sent a letter with GOP Sens. John Cornyn (Texas) and Thom Tillis (N.C.) to David Godbey ― the chief judge of the District Court of the Northern District of Texas, where Kacsmaryk’s Amarillo courthouse is situated ― urging him to ignore the Judicial Conference’s new rules.

“Judicial Conference policy is not legislation,” the letter states. “It is Congress that decides how cases should be assigned in the inferior courts and Congress has already spoken on this issue in an enacted statute: Congress gave that power to the individual district courts. Whatever the Judicial Conference thinks you ought to do, what you actually choose to do is left to your court’s discretion under the law.”

McConnell and his fellow GOP senators blamed the new Judicial Conference policy on Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who sent a letter along with 18 Democratic senators to the judicial body asking it to consider a new policy on judge-shopping in July 2023.

For his part, Schumer thanked the Judicial Conference in a statement for issuing the new rules following his letter: “After nearly a year of sounding the alarm and calling for courts to act, I am pleased the Judicial Conference has finally taken action to update rules, level the playing field, and bring more justice back into the justice system by finally putting an end to unscrupulous plaintiffs having the ability to choose their judge.”

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