Abortion pill access case: Judge wants ‘less publicity’

Amarillo, Texas –

A federal judge overseeing a high-stakes case that could threaten access to medical abortion nationwide has asked lawyers for the “comity” not to publish upcoming arguments, according to a court record released Tuesday that reveals new details of a measure that, according to experts, is outside the norm for the American judicial system.

US District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump and is known for his conservative views, told lawyers during a state conference call Friday that because the case has prompted death threats and protests, “less publicity from this audience is better,” according to a transcript of the meeting.

“And due to limited personnel and security resources, I will ask the parties to refrain from further publishing the date of the hearing,” Kacsmaryk said, according to the transcript. “This is not a gag order, but just a courtesy request given the death threats and harassing phone calls and voicemails this division has received.”

Kacsmaryk did not specify who made the threats.

“We want a smooth hearing where all parties are heard. I think less publicity from this hearing is better,” the judge said, asking lawyers not to tweet about the hearing so the court can avoid “any circus-like atmosphere.” unnecessary of what should be more of an appeals procedure”.

The judge said he planned to issue an order setting the hearing for Tuesday night, a day before the hearing in Amarillo, a Texas Panhandle community with few direct flights and more than a four-hour drive from the main city. closest. Kacsmaryk finally issued the order Monday, after The Washington Post reported on his attempt to keep the hearing secret.

Protests are now planned in Amarillo on Wednesday, with the Women’s March advocacy group urging people to gather outside the federal courthouse wearing judge and kangaroo costumes to convict Kacsmaryk.

Terry Maroney, a Vanderbilt University Law School professor who studies federal judges, said they often have security concerns in high-profile cases, but Kacsmaryk’s handling of such concerns was unusual.

“I haven’t heard of anyone doing this,” Maroney said of Kacsmaryk seeking to delay public notice of the hearing. “I find it unusual and inappropriate.”

Maroney said that while Kacsmaryk noted that his request to avoid publicity was not an order, most lawyers would be inclined to comply when a judge makes a request as a matter of security. “It functions as a gag order,” she said.

University of Oklahoma law professor Joseph Thai called it “deeply concerning” that a federal judge would try to keep the public in the dark.

“The fact that the Trump-appointed judge is deciding a highly political issue, potentially denying millions of women across the country a safe and effective abortion pill, makes it all the more critical to ensure public notice and access to the hearing. in which their rights will be defended”. will or will not be heard,” Thai said. “Nothing less than the legitimacy of the judiciary is at stake.”

The closely watched lawsuit challenges the US Food and Drug Administration’s more than 20-year approval of the drug mifepristone, one of two drugs used in medical abortions that account for more than the half of abortions in the US

The lawsuit was filed by a group that helped challenge Roe v. Wade, which the US Supreme Court struck down last year, removing women’s constitutional protections for abortion.

The impacts of a ruling against the FDA could take years to manifest. It could affect states regardless of whether abortion is legal there.

Arthur Hellman, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, said that if Kacsmaryk had issued a gag order, lawyers could have appealed it, but there was no avenue for judicial review of his gag order “as a courtesy.” . “It gives the appearance that he’s trying to keep the hearing a secret in some way,” Hellman said. “It just looks bad.”


Bleiberg reported from Dallas.

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