Texas judge told lawyers to keep key hearing date quiet

Citing death threats and harassing phone calls, the federal judge who is presiding over a crucial case that could decide the future of the abortion pill in the United States has asked lawyers not to release the date of a key hearing, telling them “less advertising is better”. “

Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk of the Northern U.S. District of Texas held a conference call with attorneys in the case on Friday, during which he scheduled closing arguments for Wednesday morning. But Kacsmaryk asked the lawyers not to publish the hearing, citing security concerns.

“And due to limited security resources and personnel, I will ask the parties to refrain from further disclosing the hearing date,” Kacsmaryk told attorneys, according to a court transcript of the conference call.

“This is not a gag order but just a request for courtesy given the death threats and harassing phone calls and voicemails this division has received,” the judge said.

“We want a smooth audience with all parties heard. I think less publicity for that audience is better,” Kacsmaryk said, adding that he didn’t want an “unnecessary circus atmosphere.”

Kacsmaryk joined the court in 2019 after being nominated by former President Donald Trump. His nomination was opposed by Senate Democrats as well as Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine, who supports abortion rights. Her nomination also faced opposition from abortion and LGBTQ rights groups such as Planned Parenthood and the Human Rights Campaign.

Among those on Friday’s conference call were Justice Department attorneys, abortion pill maker Danco Laboratories and a group that opposes abortion called Alliance Defending Freedom.

A Justice Department lawyer, Julie Straus Harris, asked the judge if the hearing date would be made public on the court docket. Kacsmaryk replied that he would make it public on Tuesday but that it “could even be after office hours”, shortly before the hearing on Wednesday morning.

The judge scheduled closing arguments in the case for 9 a.m. Central Time at the U.S. Courthouse in Amarillo, Texas. The hearing will be open to the public. The Washington Post first reported that Kacsmaryk wanted to delay public disclosure of the hearing, citing people familiar with the matter.

Although Kacsmaryk sought to delay sharing the hearing date until Tuesday evening, media sent a letter to the court on Monday urging the judge to release the date immediately. The court shared the date for the docket hearing later in the afternoon.

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Media outlets included the Washington Post, NBCUniversal News Group of which CNBC is a part, ProPublica, the Texas Press Association and Gannett, among others. Peter Steffensen of Southern Methodist University’s First Amendment Clinic at Dedman School of Law sent the letter on behalf of the media.

“The Court’s attempt to delay notice and thereby limit the ability of members of the public, including the press, to attend Wednesday’s hearing is unconstitutional and undermines the important values ​​served by access of the public to court proceedings and court records,” Steffensen said. writing.

A group of doctors who oppose abortion called the Hippocratic Medicine Alliance asked Kacsmaryk in November to order the Food and Drug Administration to withdraw its approval of the abortion pill mifepristone. The FDA approved mifepristone over 20 years ago in 2000.

The abortion pill became the focal point of the legal battle over abortion access following the Supreme Court’s decision that overturned Roe v. Wade last June. Mifepristone, used in combination with another drug called misoprostol, is the most common method of terminating a pregnancy in the United States, accounting for about half of all abortions.

The Hippocratic Medicine Alliance is represented by attorneys from the Alliance Defending Freedom, which worked with Mississippi lawmakers to draft the law at the center of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. This case ultimately resulted in the Supreme Court striking down the right to abortion under the US Constitution.

Lawyers for the Biden administration, in a January court filing, described the case challenging the FDA’s approval of mifepristone as “unprecedented.”

Government lawyers have warned that rescinding the FDA approval for mifepristone would effectively take the pill off the market, significantly harming the public interest. They said the health of women who rely on mifepristone as a safe and effective medicine would suffer. The FDA’s power to approve drugs based on its scientific determinations would also be weakened, the lawyers argued.

“If long-standing FDA drug approvals were so easily enforced, even decades after they were issued, pharmaceutical companies would be unable to confidently rely on FDA approval decisions to develop the infrastructure pharmaceutical that Americans depend on to treat a variety of health conditions,” the Biden administration lawyers wrote.

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