Judicial body says courts have discretion on new ‘judge-shopping’ policy after GOP backlash

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Judicial Conference on Friday issued guidance on the federal judiciary’s new policy making it more difficult to “judge-shop” following public criticism from top Republicans in Congress.

The term refers to a strategy that has been practiced by some conservative lawyers to bring their cases before a judge with a similar ideology.

A spokesperson for the administrative office of the U.S. Courts said in a statement Friday that the conference’s new policies, approved on Tuesday, “should not be viewed as impairing a court’s authority or discretion.”

“Rather, they set out various ways for courts to align their case assignment practices with the long-standing Judicial Conference policy of random case assignment,” the spokesperson said.

On Tuesday, the conference approved a policy to randomly assign cases that could possibly halt state or federal policies to a wider pool of district court judges. The move is designed to crack down on lawyers who engage in “judge-shopping,” or bringing their cases before a smaller subdivision of a district that could ensure the case is overseen by a sympathetic judge.

The practice was highlighted by a high-profile case about federal approval of the abortion pill mifepristone. Anti-abortion rights activists filed a case challenging federal approval in a Texas court where they were guaranteed Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, who ultimately ruled in their favor, would hear the case. The case is now before the Supreme Court.

The Judicial Conference said on Tuesday that judges would receive guidance on how to implement the policy.

Congressional Democrats such as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York have long criticized “judge-shopping.”

In a statement after the new policy was announced, Schumer said the practice “has given MAGA-right plaintiffs the ability to hijack and circumvent our federal judiciary by targeting courts that would all but guarantee a handpicked MAGA-right judge who would rule in their favor,” he said in a statement this week after the new policy was announced.

Following the policy change, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on Thursday called the move “an unforced error by the Judicial Conference” and said he hoped the Judicial Conference would “reconsider.”

He was joined by other Senate Republicans in his criticism.

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