Abortion pill access case: Judge wants ‘less advertising’

AMARILLO, Texas (AP) – A federal judge hearing a high-stakes case that could threaten access to medical abortion in…

AMARILLO, Texas (AP) — A federal judge handling a high-stakes case that could threaten access to medical abortion nationwide has asked attorneys for the “courtesy” of not announcing future arguments, according to court minutes released Tuesday that reveals new details Experts say this is out of the norm for the US judicial system.

U.S. District Judge Matthew Kaczmarik, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump and is known for his conservative views, Lawyers said during a status conference by phone Friday that because the case has sparked death threats and protests, “it’s best to have less publicity about this hearing,” according to a transcript of the meeting.

“And due to limited security and personnel resources, I will request that the parties refrain from further publicizing the hearing date,” Kaczmarik said, according to the transcript. “This is not a gag, but simply a courtesy request given the death threats and nasty phone calls and voicemail messages this unit has received.”

Kachmarik did not specify who threatened.

“We want a smooth hearing with all parties. I think less publicity about this hearing is better,” the judge said, asking lawyers not to tweet about the hearing so the court could avoid “any unnecessary circus atmosphere of what should be more of an appeal.”

The judge said he planned to issue a ruling late Tuesday, a day before a hearing in Amarillo, a Texas Panhandle community that has several direct flights and is more than four hours from the nearest major city. Kaczmarik gave the final order on Monday, after The Washington Post announced his attempt to keep the hearing secret.

Protests are planned for Wednesday in Amarillo, and the rights group the Women’s March is calling for people to gather outside the federal courthouse in judge and kangaroo suits to condemn Kaczmarik.

Terry Maroney, a Vanderbilt University law professor who studies federal judges, said they often have security concerns in high-profile cases, but Kaczmarik was unusually comfortable with those concerns.

“I haven’t heard of anyone doing that,” Maroney said of Kaczmarik’s push to delay public notice of the hearing. “It seems unusual and inappropriate to me.”

Maroney said that while Kaczmarik noted that his request to avoid publicity was not an order, most attorneys would nevertheless be inclined to comply if a judge made the request for security purposes. “Functionally, it acts as a gag,” she said.

University of Oklahoma law professor Joseph Tye called the federal judge’s attempt to keep the public in the dark “deeply troubling.”

“The fact that a Trump-appointed judge is deciding a highly political issue, potentially denying millions of women across the country access to safe and effective birth control pills, makes it even more important to ensure the public has notice and access to hearings during which their rights will — or not — will be heard,” Ty said. “No less than the legitimacy of the judiciary is at stake.”

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

The lawsuit was filed by a group that helped challenge Roe v. Wade, which The US Supreme Court was shut down last yearstripping women of constitutional protections against abortion.

The effects of a decision against the FDA could take years. This could affect states regardless of whether abortion is legal there.

Arthur Helman, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, said that if Kaczmarik had issued a gag order, lawyers could have appealed it, but there was no way for a court to review his request for silence “as a matter of courtesy.” “It makes it seem like he’s trying to somehow keep the hearing secret,” Hellman said. “It just looks bad.”


Bleiberg reported from Dallas.


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