Senator Chuck Schumer of New York has urged the federal courts’ policymaking body to end a case assignment system that he says allows parties to select their judges, stepping up an effort to enact changes to the federal judiciary.
In a letter sent Monday to Justice Robin L. Rosenberg, a federal judge in the Southern District of Florida and chairman of the Judicial Conference’s rulemaking committee, Majority Leader Mr. Schumer joined 18 other senators in pressing the group to issue recommendations for each federal trial court that would eliminate single-judge divisions.
“Depending on geography, some claimants can guarantee that their claims will be heard before a specific judge, while others are left to chance,” the letter said. “This inconsistency undermines Americans’ faith in our judicial system.”
The letter is the latest push by Democratic lawmakers to amend so-called single-judge divisions, a system in which all cases filed in a particular geographic region are assigned to one judge. The practice essentially allows plaintiffs to select which judge hears a case when filing a lawsuit in a particular division, Schumer said, pointing to the Northern District of Texas as an example.
In the letter, the senators noted that Congress could intervene if the courts themselves do not make changes, and asked what “other options Congress should consider to reduce the choice of judges.”
Forum search claims, where lawyers try to find a sympathetic judge by filing in that court, are not new. Lawyers often appear in regions of the country that they believe will benefit their clients the most. However, single-judge divisions like those in Texas go a step further because only one judge hears all new civil cases in some parts of the state.
During the Biden administration, the Texas attorney general has filed more than two dozen lawsuits challenging federal policies like immigration, environmental and pandemic restrictions. Many of these lawsuits have been filed in divisions of a single judge.
In an interview, Mr. Schumer pointed to the recent high-profile fight over the fate of mifepristone, an abortion drug. That case, pending before the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans, could dramatically limit access to the drug and also restrict the ability of the Food and Drug Administration to regulate other drugs.
“It’s been an abuse problem for a while,” Schumer said. “Some cases have highlighted it, especially the case of mifepristone.”
The lawsuit, which claims the FDA failed to follow proper protocols when it approved the drug more than 20 years ago, was brought by the Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine, which lists five anti-abortion organizations as members. The group was incorporated in Amarillo, Texas, in August, shortly after the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, removing the constitutional right to abortion after nearly five decades.
Amarillo is home to a single-judge division. Judge Matthew J. Kacsmaryk, a Trump appointee who had written criticisms of Roe v. Wade, is the only federal judge hearing new civil cases there.