“Because the effects of these cases are felt well beyond the original parties,” he wrote, “it is especially important to ensure that judge assignments are made with the highest degree of impartiality.”
Such a change would not be hard to achieve, Jonas Anderson, a law professor at American University, wrote in a 2016 article urging action to prevent judge shopping in patent cases in the Eastern District of Texas. No congressional action was needed, he wrote, as courts have great discretion in deciding how to allocate cases within their districts.
“The court itself can make this assignment procedure change with a simple memo from the chief judge,” Professor Anderson wrote.
There was a small sign of change along those lines in Judge O’Connor’s district not long ago.
Texas filed the family leave and transgender cases, along with several other challenges to federal programs, in the Northern District’s Wichita Falls Division. At the time, Judge O’Connor was the only judge in the division.
In 2016, Chief Judge Barbara M. G. Lynn, an appointee of President Bill Clinton, took a modest step to constrain Judge O’Connor’s power, announcing that she would handle 15 percent of the civil cases filed in the Wichita Falls Division, to be assigned randomly.
After that, Texas filed two cases against the federal government, including the one challenging the health care law, in the Fort Worth Division, where Judge O’Connor is the only active judge, along with two semiretired ones. He heard both cases.