Matthew Kacsmaryk, a right-wing Texas federal district court judge appointed by former President Trump, held a four-hour hearing on Wednesday March 15 in a case seeking to revoke or limit the FDA’s approval of a key abortion pill. Although he did not rule from the bench, he promised a decision “as soon as possible.” The case illustrates the continuing threat to reproductive rights and the crucial impact of federal district court judges around the country.
What’s the Background of the Case?
The lawsuit is part of the continued effort by anti-choice groups to further limit reproductive choice even after the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v Wade. It asks for a nationwide injunction that would revoke the FDA’s approval more than twenty years ago of mifespristone, which is used by millions of women to secure an abortion by medication. That result would severely limit women’s reproductive choice across the country, including in states that continue to permit abortion after the Court overruled Roe.
Right-wing groups have “judge-shopped” a number of cases to Kacsmaryk, who was a far-right lawyer for First Liberty Institute before becoming a judge and has “helped make Texas a legal graveyard” for a number of Biden Administration policies. These have included Kacsmaryk orders that have “forced the continuation of harsh Trump immigration policies, significantly limited access to federally funded birth control, and ruled that health care providers can discriminate against LGBTQ+ people despite federal anti-bias provisions.”
Controversy arose last week when Kacsmaryk held a telephone conference with lawyers in the case and set the hearing for Wednesday but stated he would not provide the usual public notice of the hearing until late Tuesday. This resulted in a strong letter from media groups on Monday protesting the action, after which the judge did approve the notice.
What happened at the hearing and what’s next?
Although no electronics were permitted in the courtroom, media reports indicate that the judge appeared “open” to “undoing [the FDA’s] approval” of the abortion pill. His questioning of lawyers who defended the FDA reportedly “hinted that he sympathized with the legal arguments from challengers who argued the approval was unlawful.” Another possibility could be an order that doesn’t completely revoke the FDA’s approval twenty years ago, but blocks the FDA’s more recent actions to “make abortion pills easier to obtain.”
Once Kacsmaryk issues a ruling “as soon as possible,” the case is likely to move quickly to the very conservative Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and may soon reach the Supreme Court. Stay tuned for more, and urge the Senate to confirm Biden nominees to our federal courts as quickly as possible to help counteract the right-wing judges like Kacsmaryk on our federal courts.