The Texas judge who could undo government approval of a key abortion drug has scheduled the first hearing in the case for Wednesday but took unusual steps to keep it from being publicized, according to people familiar with the plans.
The hearing will be an opportunity for lawyers for the Justice Department, the company that makes the drug and the conservative group that is challenging it to argue their positions before U.S. District Court Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk. After they do, the judge could rule at any time.
Kacsmaryk scheduled the hearing during a call with attorneys Friday, said multiple people familiar with the call, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it. Kacsmaryk said he would delay putting the hearing on the public docket until late Tuesday to try to minimize disruptions and possible protests, and asked the lawyers on the call not to share information about it before then, the people said.
Public access to federal court proceedings is a key principle of the American judicial system, and Kacsmaryk’s apparent delay in placing the hearing on the docket is highly unusual. The judge and his staff did not respond to emails requesting comment on Saturday evening.
The lawsuit seeks to revoke Food and Drug Administration approval of mifepristone, one of two drugs used in a medication abortion. The case has garnered widespread attention and protests.
A decision by Kacsmaryk to suspend FDA approval of mifepristone would immediately prompt major changes in how many abortion clinics across the country provide care. Some are planning to immediately switch to a misoprostol-only protocol, while others are planning to offer only surgical abortions. Any decision would likely be appealed to the conservative U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, and possibly to the Supreme Court.
Kacsmaryk told the attorneys that he also wanted to delay publicizing the hearing because courthouse members have received threats in the wake of the lawsuit, according to the people familiar with the call. Several people close to Kacsmaryk say the judge and his family have faced security threats since he ascended to the federal bench in 2019, and those threats have intensified ahead of the abortion pill ruling.
Before and after the Friday phone call with lawyers, The Washington Post repeatedly called and emailed Kacsmaryk’s chambers seeking information about it, but received no response. Kacsmaryk’s chambers also did not respond to a request that reporters be allowed to join the call.
Kacsmaryk was nominated by President Donald Trump and is known for his conservative views on issues like same-sex marriage and abortion.
By waiting to publicize the time of the hearing, Kacsmaryk and his staff could make it difficult for the public, the media and others to travel to the courthouse in Amarillo. The remote, deeply conservative city has few direct flights except from Dallas or San Antonio and is at least a four-hour drive from any of the state’s major, heavily-Democratic cities. Still, over 150 abortion rights advocates gathered there on a Saturday in mid-February to voice their support for abortion pills.
I noted this lawsuit when it was filed. There’s been a metric crap-ton of analysis and punditry and increasingly dire warnings about this lawsuit and the pernicious effect of court-shopping, and I’ll leave it to you to google around for all the screaming into the void you can handle. It’s possible that this maneuver means that Kacsmaryk has at least a dim idea that his actions have the potential to cause a massive shitstorm. It also may just be that he doesn’t care to deal with the media and he has the power to make his wishes come true. Either way, brace yourselves.
UPDATE: Chris Geidner has more.