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ADF’s Favored Judges Vow To Boycott Columbia Students

While on the bench, half of the signatories have taken action demonstrating support of the SPLC-designated anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), including hiring ADF fellows as clerks, boycotting other law schools on behalf of the group, and, in one case, drawing a misconduct complaint from a judicial watchdog for a “strange and unprecedented” order requiring Southwest Airlines to hire ADF for “religious liberty training.”

Using “viewpoint diversity” rhetoric common among far-right groups including ADF who claim that Christian conservatism is marginalized in American culture, the judges accuse Columbia of creating a double standard for pro-Palestinian protesters. The letter claims the treatment of “religious conservatives” would have been “profoundly different” if they provoked a “campus uprising” over abortion. The judges also argue that such non-violent protest tactics as sit-ins “warrant incarceration,” and that students who “trespass” or “occupy public spaces” should also be expelled.

Accusations of judge-shopping in Amarillo

More than half the judges who signed the May 6 letter preside in Texas. Three judges, Matthew J. Kacsmaryk, Drew Tipton and James W. Hendrix, have been the preferred jurists at the center of recent forum-shopping allegations leveled by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and groups seeking to preserve access to reproductive health care against both ADF and the Texas Attorney General’s Office. All three judges were appointed by former President Donald J. Trump. Kacsmaryk was narrowly confirmed despite questions from civil and human rights groups about his impartiality.

In 2023, the DOJ asked each of the judges to transfer at least one case brought by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to a different court because, they claimed, the cases were filed to circumvent processes for randomly assigning judges to hear cases. In March 2024, the judges of Texas’ Northern District refused to adopt new guidance from the nonpartisan Judicial Conference of the United States to help stem the practice of judge-shopping.

Far-right policy priorities including immigration restrictions and restrictions on LGBTQ+ and reproductive healthcare have flowed from the Northern District in recent years. In one case involving ADF, CNN reported that a group called Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine (AHM) incorporated in Amarillo just months before ADF filed a lawsuit on its behalf challenging the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) approval of the abortion drug mifepristone. Kacsmaryk is the only active district judge in the Northern District city of Amarillo. According to Reuters, an “obscure local [standing judicial] order” means that 95% of cases filed in Amarillo are assigned to Judge Kacsmaryk.

Erik Baptist, senior counsel for ADF, told CNN that calling the lawsuit a form of judge-shopping was “nonsensical.” In 2024, Kacsmaryk overturned approval of mifepristone. The ruling cited studies from ADF briefs that were later retracted for methodological issues.

In 2023, journalist David Kirkpatrick reported that Kacsmaryk hired an intern from ADF’s Blackstone Legal Fellowship earlier that year – a training program immersing law students in far-right legal theories that, according to its 2014 literature, “seeks to recover the robust Christendomic theology of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th centuries.” Kacsmaryk also employed a Blackstone fellow the previous year.

Favorable actions from judges who signed the letter to Columbia

At least four of the judges who signed the May 6 letter to Columbia have taken more direct actions to support ADF. While Kacsmaryk previously hired interns from ADF’s Blackstone program, in October 2022, Judges Elizabeth Branch and James C. Ho started a boycott of Yale Law School for what they characterized as “legitimate concerns” about students expressing their opposition to ADF attorney Kristen Waggoner’s appearance on campus.

In 2023, Texas Northern District judge Brantley Starr issued an “unprecedented” order requiring attorneys from Southwest Airlines to take eight hours of “religious liberty” training from ADF, according to the judicial watchdog group Fix the Courts.

The group claimed the order was “strange” and Judge Starr’s actions in the case warranted “repercussions” because “it’s not the court’s place to favor one religious viewpoint over another, which it appears to be doing here” by compelling “sectarian” religious training.

In September 2023, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals put the order on hold.

Favorable rulings for ADF clients

In April 2024, the director of ADF’s Blackstone program, Ryan Bangert, wrote about a favorable ruling by Judge David Counts in the Western District of Texas that came as a set of challenges ADF made against the FDA’s authority to regulate access to medication abortions. In the article, Bangert applauds Counts, who also signed the May 6 letter to Columbia, for not “buying” the Biden administration’s attempt to ensure access to medication abortion in an April 2024 ruling extending exemptions to religious pharmacists who object to filling prescriptions.

That ruling followed an ADF case from 2022 in which Judge Hendrix of the Northern District of Texas blocked the Biden administration from requiring doctors to provide abortions as part of emergency medical care.

In March 2024, Judge Daniel M. Traynor of the District Court of North Dakota ruled in a case brought by ADF that a Christian business group and its members do not have to offer health insurance coverage for gender-affirming health care.

In addition to ADF connections, more than half the judges are members of or have spoken to gatherings of the Federalist Society, a far-right judicial advocacy group founded by Leonard Leo.

Hatewatch reached out to Columbia University’s press office. Officials there declined to comment specifically about the judges’ decision, saying: “We are proud that Columbia Law School graduates are consistently sought out by leading employers in the private and public sectors, including the judiciary. And we are deeply committed to supporting our exceptional students as they prepare to embark on their careers in the legal profession.”

Photo illustration by SPLC