Los Angeles Times

A judge handpicked to rule on the abortion pill case

- JACKIE CALMES @jackiekcal­mes

TRUST IN THE SUPREME COURT has plummeted since the conservati­ve court packing of the Trump years, polls show. But look deeper: The personnel and goings-on in some lower federal courts shouldn’t inspire confidence either. And the ramificati­ons of judges’ decisions in those scores of courtrooms can be just as sweeping as the Supremes’.

Case in point: The federal courthouse in Amarillo, Texas, where at a hearing Wednesday the sole judge for a sprawling, out-of-the-way district considered whether to ban — nationwide — an abortion pill that is used in more than half of all terminated pregnancie­s in the country, including miscarriag­es. U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk could decide to issue that preliminar­y injunction as early as this week, effectivel­y outlawing the pill even in states where abortion is legal, while the lawsuit challengin­g the drug’s safety plays out.

Whatever your opinion on abortion, you should be aghast at this lawsuit. It’s been more than 20 years and countless dosages since the Food and Drug Administra­tion tested and approved mifepristo­ne as part of a two-drug abortion regimen. Since then, the agency has repeatedly reapproved it and mountains of medical data have attested to its safety.

At Kacsmaryk’s hearing, the antiaborti­on activists who brought this case conceded that for a court to order the government to pull a long approved drug from the market would be unpreceden­ted.

And yet … the antiaborti­on groups second-guessing the FDA’s scientists have reason to feel optimistic that Kacsmaryk will side with them. After all, they handpicked this judge to hear their suit, just as other conservati­ve activists have done during his four years on the bench, because of his evident sympathy to their causes.

For right-wing “forum shoppers,” Kacsmaryk is one of the go-to guys.

Like so many others plucked for the federal bench by former President Trump, he is white, male, young — just 39 when nominated to the lifetime job, the better to rule for decades — and reliably, radically, conservati­ve. He joined the Federalist Society in law school, worked on Republican campaigns in Texas, including for Sen. Ted Cruz, and came to the federal bench straight from lawyering for a Christian “religious freedom” legal group, First Liberty Institute.

As his staunchly antiaborti­on sister recently told the Washington Post about her big brother’s role in the abortion pill case: “I feel like he was made for this. He is exactly where he needs to be.”

Trump sure thought so. Egged on by evangelica­l supporters, the Federalist Society and the equally right-wing Heritage Foundation, the former president had to nominate Kacsmaryk three times over three years before a Republican­controlled Senate would finally confirm him, by a close vote. Kacsmaryk’s views almost proved too much, even for some Republican­s.

His confirmati­on hearings showcased not only his antiaborti­on advocacy, but also his views that LGBTQ people have mental disorders and that legalized same-sex marriage would put the nation “on a road to potential tyranny.” He’d written that “the pro-marriage movement” — favoring marriage between a man and a woman — must follow the example of the opponents of Roe vs. Wade: Play a long game and fight to “win the case 40 years from now” to restore “traditiona­l marriage.”

No surprise, then, that Kacsmaryk reportedly keeps a bobblehead of Clarence Thomas on his desk. Justice Thomas, concurring with the Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organizati­on decision overturnin­g Roe in June, suggested that the Supreme Court also “reconsider” constituti­onal protection­s for same-sex marriage, same-sex intimacy and contracept­ion.

Kacsmaryk has twice ruled against President Biden’s effort to end Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy for asylum seekers. He likewise decided against a federal program that provides contracept­ives to teens, saying it violates parents’ rights. And he struck down a Biden policy that healthcare providers can’t discrimina­te against LGTBQ people despite the Supreme Court’s determinat­ion that an antidiscri­mination law covered those groups. Kacsmaryk began his adverse opinion by citing Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr.’s dissent from that ruling.

But the abortion pill case has drawn the most controvers­y. Rightly so: It underscore­s just how radical a turn the nation has taken against women’s reproducti­ve rights after half a century of Roe’s constituti­onal protection.

With the Dobbs decision, the Supreme Court threw abortion law back to the states, “to the people’s elected representa­tives,” Alito wrote. Concurring, Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh declared that judges would no longer decide “those difficult moral and policy questions.”

That was what conservati­ves for decades had claimed was their holy grail: Let the states decide. Indeed, red states have rushed to impose near total bans. According to the pro-abortionri­ghts Guttmacher Institute, which tracks U.S. abortion laws, 24 states have enacted such bans or are likely to do so (some are being challenged in court).

Yet now antiaborti­on activists want more — a national ban. Without hope of getting such a law from a Democratic president and a divided Congress, they’ve turned again to the federal courts for the next best thing: a ruling with national sway outlawing medication abortion. So much for Alito’s and Kavanaugh’s prediction­s.

Reports from the Wednesday hearing indicated that Kacsmaryk, true to form, was seeking a way to support the antiaborti­on plaintiffs. Should he indeed decide the FDA and the medical profession have for nearly 23 years been wrong about mifesprist­one, it’s a good bet he’d be upheld in the ultra-conservati­ve 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, whose jurisdicti­on includes Texas. Then the issue goes to the Supreme Court. We know which way it leans.

And the justices wonder why they’ve got a record-high 58% disapprova­l rating, why so many Americans have come to see the judiciary as being ideologica­l rather than impartial and no less political than the other two branches of government.

It’s simple: These days the judiciary often is.

Antiaborti­on groups ‘forum shopped’ for a Trump judge likely to block medication abortion nationwide.

 ?? Senate Judiciary Committee ?? IT TOOK three tries to get ultra-conservati­ve Matthew Kacsmaryk confirmed.
Senate Judiciary Committee IT TOOK three tries to get ultra-conservati­ve Matthew Kacsmaryk confirmed.
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