Senator Chuck Schumer of New York has urged the policymaking body for the federal courts to end a case assignment system that he says allows parties to select their judges, escalating an effort to enact change at the federal judiciary.
In a letter sent on Monday to Judge Robin L. Rosenberg, a federal judge in the Southern District of Florida and the chair of the rule-making committee for the Judicial Conference, Mr. Schumer, the majority leader, joined 18 other senators to press the group to issue recommendations for every trial court at the federal level that would eliminate single-judge divisions.
“Based on geography, some plaintiffs are able to guarantee that their claims will be heard before a specific judge, whereas others are left to chance,” the letter said. “This inconsistency undermines Americans’ faith in our judicial system.”
The letter is the latest push by Democratic lawmakers to amend so-called single-judge divisions, a system in which all cases filed in a particular geographic region are assigned to one judge. The practice essentially allows plaintiffs to select which judge hears a case by filing a lawsuit in a particular division, Mr. Schumer said, pointing to the Northern District of Texas as an example.
In the letter, the senators signaled that Congress could intervene if the courts themselves do not make changes, asking what “other options should Congress consider to reduce judge shopping.”
Claims of forum-shopping, where lawyers try to seek a judge sympathetic to their case by filing in that court, are not new. Lawyers often file in regions of the country that they believe will most advantage their clients. Single-judge divisions like those in Texas, however, go a step further because only one judge hears all new civil cases in some parts of the state.
During the Biden administration, the Texas attorney general has filed more than two dozen lawsuits challenging federal policies such as immigration, the environment and pandemic restrictions. Many of these lawsuits have been filed in single-judge divisions.
In an interview, Mr. Schumer pointed to the recent high-profile fight over the fate of mifepristone, an abortion drug. That case, pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in New Orleans, could sharply limit access to the medication and also curtail the Food and Drug Administration’s ability to regulate other drugs.
“It’s been an issue of abuse for the last while,” Mr. Schumer said. “Certain cases have highlighted it — the mifepristone case above all.”
The lawsuit, which claims the F.D.A. did not follow proper protocols when it approved the drug more than 20 years ago, was brought by the Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine, which lists five anti-abortion organizations as members. The group was incorporated in Amarillo, Texas, in August, shortly after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, eliminating a constitutional right to abortion after nearly five decades.
Amarillo is home to a single-judge division. Judge Matthew J. Kacsmaryk, a Trump appointee who had written critically about Roe v. Wade, is the only federal judge who hears new civil cases there.