New Federal Judiciary Rule Will Limit ‘Forum Shopping’ by Plaintiffs

When anti-abortion activists sued the Food and Drug Administration in 2022 seeking to overturn the approval of the abortion drug mifepristone, they filed their suit in the federal court in Amarillo, Texas, where it was all but assured that the case would be heard by Judge Matthew J. Kacsmaryk, an outspoken opponent of abortion.

Judge Kacsmaryk, the sole federal judge in Amarillo, wound up agreeing with the plaintiffs that the drug was “unsafe.” In his ruling, he invalidated the F.D.A.’s 23-year-old approval of the drug and opened a new front in the post-Dobbs reckoning over abortion rights.

The suit — and the role of Judge Kacsmaryk, who handles 95 percent of the Amarillo civil caseload — was one of the most striking recent examples of “forum shopping,” where plaintiffs to try to cherry-pick sympathetic judges.

Now, forum shopping is about to get harder.

The panel of federal judges who set policy for the rest of federal judiciary on Tuesday announced a new rule intended to curb the practice in civil cases with nationwide implications, like the mifepristone suit.

In such cases, where plaintiffs are seeking a sweeping remedy, like a nationwide injunction, the judge will be assigned at random from across the district instead of defaulting to the judge or judges in a particular courthouse.

Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in December 2017.Credit…Senate Judiciary Committee, via Associated Press

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