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Wyden targets “rogue” judges with Fair Courts Act

Officials hold press conference in shaded patio behind reproductive health clinic.
Brian Bull
U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (right, at podium) speaks at Planned Parenthood in Eugene. Lane County Commissioner Laurie Trieger (far left), Planned Parenthood interim president and CEO Amy Holder (second from left), and Planned Parenthood board member Bethany Grace Howe (center), were also present and shared remarks on the Fair Courts Act.

Litigants who seek judges predisposed to rule in their favor – or “judge shopping” - is being addressed in new legislation.

Oregon Democratic Senator Ron Wyden is introducing the Fair Courts Act along with fellow Democrat Deborah Ross, a member of the U.S. House from North Carolina. Both refer to a Texas judge’s ruling in April that suspended the Food & Drug Administration’s approval of mifepristone, commonly known as the “abortion pill.” That judge deemed the drug unsafe, despite being on the market for 23 years.

Wyden said anti-abortion extremists had made sure the Trump-appointed judge got to rule on the drug, and adds his legislation would limit weaponization of the court system by “rogue” judges.

“If you’re talking about changing a national policy, you wouldn’t just have one local judge calling all the shots, you’d have a three-judge panel to process a way to ensure that there’s fair treatment,” Wyden said.

Ross has introduced the legislation in the House already, while Wyden will do so in the Senate when that chamber is back in session.

The bill already has the support of a reproductive health clinic in Eugene.

Woman speaks with microphone behind podium.
Brian Bull
Amy Handler of Planned Parenthood of Southwestern Oregon, speaks to media and a small crowd at the March 24, 2023 press event.

At an event with Wyden on Wednesday afternoon, Amy Handler, interim president at Planned Parenthood of Southwestern Oregon, talked about how consequential targeted lawsuits with sympathetic judges can be.

“Judge shopping could have effects on every aspect of our lives,” Handler told a small crowd and media. “This isn’t about healthcare or bodily autonomy. Anyone with a political or religious perspective could bring a case in front of a sympathetic judge and alter the lives of people across the country in any number of ways.”

Wyden’s legislation seeks to limit hand picking of judges, increase transparency, and shift major decisions to a three-judge panel.

In a release, Ross said, “America was founded on the principle of equal justice under law, and the impartiality of judges and our court system is paramount to that fundamental promise. Nobody should have the power to choose who decides their case, especially when the ruling will have widespread consequences for all Americans. The Fair Courts Act would strengthen our justice system by limiting both the power of parties to choose individual judges and the power of individual judges to issue nationwide relief. "

Wyden and Ross’s legislation includes the following provisions:

  • Prohibits a district court from granting nationwide relief unless the request is heard by a panel of three judges.
  • Requires certain cases filed in a federal court to be randomly assigned to judges within the district or state where the case was filed.
  • Increases transparency in the way that cases are assigned to judges by requiring this information to be made available on the district court’s website.

A circuit appeals court is expected to rule on whether mifepristone can be distributed as before, or with restrictions.

Brian Bull is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Oregon, and remains a contributor to the KLCC news department. He began working with KLCC in June 2016.   In his 27+ years as a public media journalist, he's worked at NPR, Twin Cities Public Television, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards (22 regional),  the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award, Best Radio Reporter from  the Native American Journalists Association, and the PRNDI/NEFE Award for Excellence in Consumer Finance Reporting.
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