WASHINGTON (AP) — A Texas judge who sparked a legal storm with an unprecedented ruling halting consent to the nation’s most common abortion method is a former attorney for a religious freedom law group with a long history of pushing for conservative causes.
US District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, a appointee of former President Donald Trump, on Friday ordered the suspension of federal approval of mifepristone in a decision that rejected decades of scientific approval. His ruling, which did not take effect immediately, came about the same time US District Judge Thomas O. Rice, the man appointed by former President Barack Obama, essentially ordered otherwise in a different case in Washington. The split likely put the matter on an accelerated path to the US Supreme Court.
Kacsmaryk, a former federal prosecutor and attorney for the conservative First Liberty Institute, was confirmed in 2019 over fierce opposition from Democrats for her record against LGBTQ rights. He was among more than 230 judges appointed to the federal bench under Trump as part of a move by the Republican president and the conservative Senate to shift America’s judiciary to the right.
He was the only district court judge in Amarillo — a city in Texas pendulum — ensuring that all cases filed there landed before him. And since sitting on the bench, he has stood up to the Biden administration on several other issues, including immigration and LGBTQ protections.
Interest groups of all kinds have long sought to bring lawsuits before judges they see as friendly to their point of view. But the number of conservative lawsuits filed in Amarillo has spawned accusations of “judge shopping” or that right-wing plaintiffs sought out Kacsmaryk because they knew they would elicit sympathy.
“Why are all these cases brought to Amarillo if the plaintiffs who filed them are so confident in the strength of their claims? It’s not because Amarillo is convenient to reach,” said University of Texas law professor Stephen Vladeck. “I think it should worry the judges themselves, that litigants are so transparent and shamelessly funneling cases into their courtrooms.”
The Justice Department quickly appealed Kacsmaryk’s decision to the US 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. And for now, the drug the Food and Drug Administration approved in 2000 seems to remain available soon after conflicting decisions in Texas and Washington.
Mifepristone blocks the hormone progesterone in the body and is used with the drug misoprostol to end a pregnancy in the first 10 weeks. The lawsuit in the Texas case was filed by Alliance Defending Freedom, which was also implicated in the Mississippi case that led to Roe v. wade canceled.
Legal experts warned of questionable arguments and factual inaccuracies in the months-long lawsuit, but Kacsmaryk agreed with essentially all of the plaintiffs’ main points, including their contention that the FDA had not adequately reviewed the safety of mifepristone. Medical groups, in contrast, point out mifepristone has been used by millions of women over the last 23 years, and complications occur at a lower rate compared to other routine procedures such as wisdom tooth extractions and colonoscopy.
During a confirmation hearing before he took the bench, Kacsmaryk told lawmakers it was “inappropriate” for a judge to allow their religious beliefs to impact legal matters. He vowed to “faithfully implement all Supreme Court precedents.”
“As a judicial candidate, I do not serve as a legislator. I do not serve as an advocate for attorneys. I follow the laws as they are written, not as I would write them down,” said Kacsmaryk at the time.
Prior to the abortion pill case, Kacsmaryk was at the center of a legal battle over Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy, which required tens of thousands of asylum-seeking migrants to wait in Mexico for questioning in US immigration courts.
In 2021, he ordered that the policy reinstated in response to lawsuits filed by the states of Texas and Missouri. The US Supreme Court rejected it and said the Biden administration could end the policy, which it implemented last August. But in December Kacsmaryk ruled that the government failed to follow federal rulemaking guidelines when stopping the practice, an issue the Supreme Court was not addressing.
He also ruled that allowing minors to get free birth control without parental consent at federally funded clinics violated parental rights and Texas law.
In other cases, he has determined that the Biden administration misinterpreted parts of the Affordable Care Act as prohibiting healthcare providers from discriminating against people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. And he sided with Texas in a decision against the Biden administration’s guidelines that say employers cannot block workers from using bathrooms that match their gender identity.
In another case—which was brought by a state that challenged Department of Labor regulations—the Justice Department recently attempted to move the case from its district, writing in a court filing that “for no apparent reason—other than judge spending” explaining why. the suit was filed in Amarillo In rejecting an offer to move the case, Kacsmaryk wrote that the law “does not require the Court to guess Plaintiffs’ subjective motivation for choosing” to file there.
Kacsmaryk’s decision has been “consistent with the hopes of many conservatives, and many progressives fear,” said Daniel Bennett, a professor at John Brown University in Arkansas, who has written a book about the conservative Christian law movement. . “This isn’t a judge who’s always going to ride the fence.”
Kacsmaryk’s detractors say his writings and past legal work reveal extremist views and animosity toward gay and transgender people. In articles prior to his nomination, he wrote criticism of the Roe v. Wade established abortion rights nationally and Obergefell’s decision legalized same-sex marriage nationally.
In 2015, she criticized efforts to pass federal gender identity and sexual orientation protections, writing that doing so would not “give a quarter to Americans who continue to believe and strive to live out their millennia-old religious belief that marriage and sexual relations are reserved for union.” one man and one woman.”
A year later, he signed a letter citing another article that described the “belief that one is trapped in the body of the wrong sex” as a “fixed and irrational belief” that was “aptly described as delusion”.
Kacsmaryk’s defense said he had been unjustly slandered.
Mike Davis, founder of the Article III Project, a conservative judicial advocacy group, said Kacsmaryk showed 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 described as “a very high standard with respect to integrity, professional competence and judicial temperament.”
“Allegations that he is biased are completely unfounded and they unfairly confuse his legal advocacy with bigotry,” Davis said. “This Democratic politician is sending a message to Christians and other people of faith that they are not allowed in public squares.”
Prior to joining, Kacsmaryk worked as an assistant US attorney in Texas and was involved in cases such as the prosecution of Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari, a former Texas University of Technology student from Saudi Arabia who was convicted in a failed bomb plot.
In 2014, Kacsmaryk joined the First Liberty Institute, which bills itself as “the nation’s largest legal organization dedicated exclusively to defending religious freedom for all Americans.” Kacsmaryk noted during his confirmation process that the group represented all religions.
Among the plaintiffs he is defending as the institute’s deputy general counsel is an Oregon bakery that refused to provide cakes for same-sex weddings.
“Obviously, the decision is really upsetting for progressives and leftists and very pleasing for those on the right,” Bennett said. “But that’s the nature of our judicial branch at the moment, especially with these hot issues.”
Richer reporting from Boston.