Schumer Eyes Legislation to Curtail ‘Judge Shopping’ After Texas Judge Rebuffs Pressure Campaign

Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer hopes to limit nationwide injunctions; Republicans say Democrats are just trying to muzzle conservative judges.
Schumer Eyes Legislation to Curtail ‘Judge Shopping’ After Texas Judge Rebuffs Pressure Campaign
Senate Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) speaks to the press after meeting with President Joe Biden and other congressional leaders at the White House in Washington on Feb. 27, 2024. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)
Ryan Morgan

Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is looking at legislative options to ensure federal court cases are randomly assigned after a top U.S. district court judge in Texas rejected Mr. Schumer’s calls to change his court’s case assignment methods.

Mr. Schumer has urged courts to adopt a randomized case assignment process to curtail a practice commonly known as “judge shopping,” wherein litigants try to bring lawsuits before specific judges and courts they believe are more likely to rule in their favor.

“Judge shopping has been abused by right-wing activists to subvert the will of the people,” Mr. Schumer said in a press statement on Monday.

Mr. Schumer’s press statement came in response to a decision by Chief Judge David Godbey, of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, to reject calls for his district to adopt a randomized process for assigning cases, in order to avoid judge shopping.

Without certain courts voluntarily acting to prevent judge shopping, Mr. Schumer said “the Senate will consider legislative options to put an end to this misguided practice.”

Schumer Fueds With Texas Federal Court

Mr. Schumer’s push for judicial reforms to end judge shopping has focused heavily on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas. The New York Democrat has raised concern that this particular federal court district has become a favored venue for conservative and politically right-leaning litigants.

Part of Mr. Schumer’s concern about the Northern District of Texas focuses on the number of local divisions within the court district that are overseen by a single judge.

Mr. Schumer began communicating with Judge Godbey about his judge shopping concerns in an April 2023 letter.

In a May 2023 response, Judge Godbey acknowledged the lawmaker’s concerns about the public perception of judge shopping, but defended his district’s decision not to use an entirely randomized process for assigning judges, citing concerns about “the number and type of civil and criminal cases filed in a division,” “the convenience of the jurors, witnesses, parties, and attorneys,” “the desire of communities to have local judges,” and “the burden of travel on court personnel.”

By July 2023, Mr. Schumer and 18 other Senate Democrats had organized a letter to the U.S. Judicial Conference, raising concerns about the federal court system for the Northern District of Texas.
“Americans’ faith in the judicial system is at an all-time low following the hijacking of our court system by the MAGA right” Mr. Schumer added in a press statement announcing his letter to the Judicial Conference. “It is a complete perversion of the intent of the judiciary to leave open this glaring loophole that allows plaintiffs to effectively choose their judges. The Northern District of Texas is a particularly egregious example of this practice in action and defies any good-faith explanation as to why specific judges are assigned to certain divisions.”

Mr. Schumer further warned in July that, absent reforms, “Activist judges will continue to impose their will on the country and offer flawed and chaotic rulings on abortion access, LGBTQ+ protections, legal immigration, and climate legislation.”

Last month, the Judicial Conference issued a policy announcement favoring a randomized process for assigning judges to cases in which litigants seek to bar or mandate state or federal actions. The particular policy says court districts may continue to assign cases to a single-judge division within a federal court if they are cases in which litigants do not seek to bar or mandate state or federal actions.
Mr. Schumer noted this Judicial Conference policy in a March 21 letter to Judge Godbey, urging his court to adopt the policy.
In a March 29 response letter, Judge Godbey concluded that his court retains the authority to decide how cases are assigned and said he and his fellow district judges had reached a consensus not to change the case assignment process.
“It is unfortunate that Chief Judge Godbey and the district judges of the Northern District of Texas have decided to continue to allow the odious practice of judge shopping. In doing so, they are allowing plaintiffs to choose their judge—a practice that the Judicial Conference has issued guidance to try to curtail,” Mr. Schumer said in his Monday press statement.

McConnell Backs Texas Court District

Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has backed the Northern District of Texas federal court in its dispute over case assignment policies.
In a March 14 Senate floor speech, Mr. McConnell acknowledged frustrations coming from both sides of the political aisle regarding court cases in which litigants seek nationwide injunctions–court orders in which a single district court judge prevents the federal government from enforcing a statute, regulation, or policy.

However, the top Republican senator argued that while Republicans have favored legislative efforts to curtail the practice of nationwide injunctions altogether, the policies favored by Democrats appear intent on curtailing such nationwide injunctions coming from courts likely to rule in favor of conservative litigants.

“Rather than working with Republicans to eliminate a practice that gores the oxen of both parties, it turns out our colleagues preferred to preserve it just for themselves,” Mr. McConnell said. “Now that nationwide injunctions are being used against the Biden Administration, liberal allies in the academy and the media have started to target ‘single judge divisions,’ where they think conservative plaintiffs are likely to get favorable rulings from sympathetic judges.”

Mr. McConnell said the Judicial Conference’s policy recommendations on randomizing case assignments “will have no practical effect in the venues favored by liberal activists” but has Democrats “salivating” at the possibility of “shutting down access to justice in the venues favored by conservatives.”

The Kentucky Republican said the Judicial Conference made an “unforced error” with its response to calls for reforms from Democrats.

“I hope they will reconsider,” Mr. McConnell said. “And I hope district courts throughout the country will instead weigh what is best for their jurisdictions, not half-baked ‘guidance’ that just does Washington Democrats’ bidding.”

Any legislative efforts Mr. Schumer takes to ensure federal court cases are randomly assigned could be met with opposition in the narrowly divided Congress. Democrats currently hold a majority in the U.S. Senate, while Republicans control the U.S. House of Representatives.