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Why Texas judges have so much power right now

Why is Texas so good at changing policy for the whole US?

Adam Freelander is a story editor and producer on the Vox video team, covering the US. Before joining Vox in 2018, he worked as a senior video producer at Quartz covering culture and politics, and worked on the video desk at the New York Times.

In April 2021, Texas sued the US government over immigration policy. But they didn’t sue in Texas’s state capital, or in Washington, DC, or in any of the along federal courthouses along Texas’s border with Mexico. They filed the suit in a small Texas city called Victoria, far from any important government officials or immigration centers. And they did it there because they knew that if they did, a judge named Drew Tipton would be assigned to their case.

In the time since Joe Biden has become president, Texas has sued the federal government 31 times. That’s a lot, but what’s more striking is that eight of those lawsuits have been heard by Judge Tipton. The reason that’s weird is that normally, judges are supposed to be assigned to cases randomly. But in Texas, you can choose your judge. It’s called “judge shopping,” and it has made Texas judges some of the most powerful in the country.

It’s also not just the state of Texas getting in on the act. In 2022, a private group called the Alliance For Hippocratic Medicine filed a suit demanding that the FDA take mifepristone, a widely used abortion medication approved in 2000, off the market. And they filed the suit in Amarillo, Texas, where Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk hears 100 percent of the cases. Kacsmaryk had previously been a lawyer for right-wing causes before he was a judge, and he ruled accordingly, ordering that the FDA ban mifepristone throughout the US.

In the mifepristone case, the Supreme Court stepped in and paused the decision, but the fact that it got so close to being banned shows how empowered Texas federal judges are by the rules of Texas district courts. These judges, most of whom were appointed by Trump, are playing a huge role in shaping national policy, and they’ve turned Texas into a powerful weapon against the federal government.

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