The federal judge overseeing a challenge to the federal government’s approval of a medication abortion drug announced Monday that there will be a hearing Wednesday in the case – an announcement that comes after reports the judge had privately sought to delay announcement of the hearing.
The hearing will be at 9 a.m. CT on Wednesday, according to the new order from US District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk.
Several media organizations had asked Kascmaryk to publicly announce his plans to hold a hearing Wednesday in a blockbuster medication abortion case after the judge reportedly moved to keep the hearing under wraps.
“Across the ideological spectrum, the public is intensely interested in this case,” the organizations wrote in a Monday letter to the judge, which they filed before the scheduling order was posted to the docket.
The case concerns a challenge brought by anti-abortion doctors and medical associations to the federal government’s 2000 approval of a drug used to terminate pregnancies. Medication abortion is the most common method of abortion in the United States.
If the judge grants the request to block access to the drug nationwide, it could make the pills harder to obtain even in states where medication abortion is legal.
“The Court’s delayed docketing of notice of Wednesday’s hearing, and its request to the parties and their counsel not to disclose the hearing schedule publicly, harm everyone, including those who support the plaintiffs’ position and those who support the defendants’ position,” the media outlets added.
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The letter pointed to reporting by The Washington Post on Saturday that said on Friday, Kacsmaryk held a private phone call with the lawyers in the case and told them he was scheduling a hearing for Wednesday but not announcing those plans on the case’s docket until Tuesday evening. The judge reportedly told the lawyers not to publicize the hearing plans in the meantime.
Kacsmaryk is currently considering the plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction that would “withdrawal or suspend” that approval while the lawsuit plays out.
The new order scheduling Wednesday’s hearing noted that on Friday, Kacsmaryk held a status conference with the lawyers for the party in the case.
The status conference was not publicized on the docket on Friday, but a notice for it was added to the docket on Monday with the scheduling order for the Wednesday hearing.
The parties will each have two hours to argue, according to the new schedule order, and Kacsmaryk listed a series of legal questions about the case their lawyers should be prepared to address.
The media outlets told Kacsmaryk in their letter that the “Court’s attempt to delay notice of and, therefore, 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 public access to judicial proceedings and court records.”
Kacsmaryk’s courtroom is in Amarillo, Texas – a division in the northern Texas panhandle that is a several hours’ drive from Texas’ biggest cities and accessible only by a limited number of direct flights.
According to the Post, Kacsmaryk told the case’s lawyers he was holding off until Tuesday to announce the Wednesday hearing to limit the potential for protests and disruptions to the proceedings.
“The Court cannot constitutionally close the courtroom indirectly when it cannot constitutionally close the courtroom directly,” the media outlets wrote.
“The United States Supreme Court has made clear that, because of our historical tradition of public access to judicial proceedings, and because of the structural necessity of such access to ensure government transparency and accountability, the circumstances in which a courtroom can be closed without violating the First Amendment and common law rights of access are rare.”
The organizations signing onto the letter are the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, The Washington Post, NBCUniversal News Group, ProPublica, Inc., Texas Press Association, The Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, The Markup, and Gannett Co., Inc.
This story has been updated with additional details.