Right wing extremists are using a single federal judge sitting in the Northern District of Texas to impose their agenda on the entire nation. Judge Matthew J. Kacsmaryk, 46, was appointed by Donald Trump and narrowly confirmed for a lifetime appointment to the federal bench by the U.S. Senate in 2019. Because of Kacsmaryk’s status as a federal judge, his rulings can have nationwide consequences, thereby affecting each of us. Kacsmaryk is hearing a case seeking to ban mifepristone, a safe and effective abortion pill in use for over two decades.
Trump, with backing from the Federalist Society, appointed Kacsmaryk because of his hard-right stance on major issues. Prior to his elevation to the court, Kacsmaryk advocated against the separation of church from state, reproductive rights and privacy, gender parity, and equality. Immediately prior to his confirmation, Kacsmaryk worked as deputy general counsel for the First Liberty Institute, a Christian law firm based in Texas, which opposes the constitutional separation of church and state and spreads anti-LGBTQ legal theories designed to undermine both civil and privacy rights. As a lawyer, Kacsmaryk argued that recognizing same-sex marriage would send the country “on a road to potential tyranny.” Having characterized homosexuality as “disordered”, Kacsmaryk argued that the push for marriage equality is a “complete abuse of rule of law principles.” Kacsmaryk mocked the sexual revolution and gender parity, stating: “marriage, sexuality, gender identity and even the unborn child must yield to the erotic desires of liberated adults.” At First Liberty, Kacsmaryk petitioned to limit access to contraception by expanding religious exemptions for employers.
Kacsmaryk’s antipathy towards reproductive rights is particularly notable because it is infused with a religious zealotry that should have been disqualifying for the position that he now holds. In college, Kacsmaryk wrote a letter to the editor of the student newspaper about abortion, criticizing the Democratic Party and endorsing the Republican Party platform that would grant a fetus the full legal protections of a person. In law school, Kacsmaryk focused his attention on undermining reproductive rights, including by debating the best strategies for overturning Roe v. Wade. His anti-abortion beliefs became fervent following the stillbirth of the first child he and his wife were expecting. Until his confirmation to the federal bench in 2019, Kacsmaryk served on the board of Christian Homes and Family Services, an anti-abortion “ministry.”
What makes Kacsmaryk particularly dangerous and effective is that he is the only judge assigned to hear all new civil and criminal cases filed in the Northern District of Texas. Compare this to the federal court in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia, where there and 21 district court judges and 10 senior judges any one of whom may be assigned to a new case. With Kacsmaryk sitting as the sole criminal and civil judge in Amarillo, the nation’s extremists can file their cases in the Northern District of Texas and know exactly who will decide their cases: a religious zealot with strong bias against Democrats and democratic causes.
More concerning, an appellate check against Kacsmaryk’s anticipated abuses of power is unlikely given the conservative makeup of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, where 12 of the 16 active appellate court judges were appointed by Republicans. Kacsmaryk effectively provides conservatives with a cheat code, allowing them to advance their extreme agenda all the way to the US Supreme Court, where six of the nine justices are ultra-conservatives.
Unsurprisingly, extremists have filed some of the most divisive and contentious issues in the country in Kacsmaryk’s courthouse. Kacsmaryk twice ruled in favor of reinstating the widely criticized “Remain in Mexico” policy, forcing asylum seekers to stay in Mexico while their claims were processed. A single judge imposed his views on the entire Executive Branch, effectively paralyzing national policy. He struck down as unlawful new guidelines from the Biden administration that protected transgender people – who Kacsmaryk previously derided as a “delusion” – from discrimination in the workplace. He also issued an opinion requiring anyone under 18 in Texas to seek approval from their parent or guardian before obtaining contraception from federally funded clinics, finding a “fundamental right” for parents to deprive their children from access to birth control. Kacsmaryk is currently presiding over a case where anti-vaccine conspiracy theorists are suing the world’s leading media organizations for refusing to carry misinformation about vaccines.
Kacsmaryk is most predominantly in the headlines because he is poised to uphold a baseless challenge to the FDA’s approval of mifepristone, a safe and effective abortion pill that was approved 22 years ago. Mifepristone is the country’s most common form of abortion care, and by reversing the FDA’s approval, Kacsmaryk can impose a nationwide ban on the pill. The Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine, the lead plaintiff in the case, incorporated in Texas with a “registered agent” in Amarillo, a few months before they filed the lawsuit. This allowed them to effectively “forum shop” to bring their case before Kacsmaryk. In a statement issued to the Washington Post, Kacsmaryk’s sister said that she was glad that her brother would be deciding whether to ban the drug, adding: “I feel like he was made for this … He is exactly where he needs to be.”
The Biden administration has promised to appeal any adverse rulings from Kacsmaryk.