Court rejects DOJ bid to transfer Texas immigration lawsuit because of alleged 'judge shopping'
A federal judge on Friday rejected a Justice Department bid to push back against alleged “judge-shopping” in a case brought by Texas and other Republican states against a Biden administration immigration policy.
US District Judge Drew Tipton denied a request from the DOJ that he transfer the lawsuit to a court other than his own.
The judge said he was unconvinced that Texas’ choice of filing the case in his in division – the Southern District of Texas, Victoria division, where Tipton is assigned every civil lawsuit that is brought there – was creating a public perception of unfairness.
Tipton, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, pointed to comments a DOJ attorney made during a hearing last month about the request, in which the attorney confirmed that he believed the judge would be impartial in the case.
“In light of the Federal Defendants’ repeated and genuine expressions of confidence in the impartiality and fairness of this Court, it is difficult to accept their argument that ‘public perception’ – if such a concept could be beheld singularly – is meaningfully different than the Defendants,” Tipton said in Friday’s opinion, which called the Biden administration’s public perception claims “speculation.”
“The Court does not believe it is appropriate to transfer a case that is in the proper venue due to a speculative public perception of bias that conflicts with the Federal Defendants’ own statements,” he wrote.
The judge went on to assert that “transferring the case because of a public concern that a judge in a single-judge division is biased may well legitimize that concern.”
The Justice Department’s motion to transfer the case pointed out that at least seven Texas lawsuits against the Biden administration have been filed in the Victoria Division, all but guaranteeing Tipton will hear the cases.
Texas has a tendency of funneling its lawsuits against the Biden administration into divisions where most or all cases are assigned to an individual judge. In filings, the DOJ argued that Texas can “circumvent the random assignment system by never filing in Divisions where they have a non-trivial chance of not knowing what judge they are likely to be assigned.”
Tipton did not weigh in directly on Texas’ broader pattern of where it files cases. Tipton said there was the limited 5th Circuit case law on when a case should be transferred because of judge-shopping concerns, and after quoting one such case, he wrote that it is “no well-kept secret that litigation involves strategy.”
The Justice Department made similar requests to Judge James Wesley Hendrix and Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, in cases filed in their courthouses challenging, respectively, Biden regulations for investors and the annual spending bill the president signed last year.
Like Tipton, Hendrix and Kacsmaryk are viewed as conservative judges and all three have ruled against the administration in previous cases brought by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and other Republican state attorneys general.