Story at a glance
- Three Alabama judges on Wednesday ordered lawyers challenging a new Alabama law that criminalizes gender-affirming care for minors to answer questions about possible judge shopping.
- More than 30 attorneys have been asked to appear before the judges, with a hearing scheduled for May 20 in Montgomery.
- Under the law in question, it is now a felony – punishable by up to a decade in prison – to provide or recommend puberty blockers, hormone therapies or other gender-affirming interventions to patients younger than 19 years old.
Lawyers challenging an Alabama law that criminalizes the provision of gender-affirming care for transgender and nonbinary minors have been ordered to appear before a panel of three federal judges to answer questions about alleged judge shopping, a court order filed this week has instructed.
U.S. District Judge Liles Burke, who is presiding over the case, first raised the possibility of judge shopping – in which several lawsuits asserting the same claim are filed in the hopes that one of them will be heard by a favorable judge – in April, after multiple complaints challenging the law were filed in the Middle and Northern Districts of Alabama.
Under the law in question, which took effect Sunday, it is now a felony – punishable by up to a decade in prison – to provide or recommend puberty blockers, hormone therapies or other gender-affirming interventions to patients younger than 19 years old.
“At the risk of stating the obvious, Plaintiffs’ course of conduct could give the appearance of judge shopping … a practice that has the propensity to create the appearance of impropriety in the judicial system,” Burke wrote in April, referring to lawsuits Walker v. Marshall and Walker and Ladinsky v. Ivey.
Shortly after they were filed, both lawsuits were voluntarily dropped by the plaintiffs, court records show. An attorney representing one of the families in the latter suit told AL.com that “We do plan to refile imminently.”
Days later, a third complaint was filed by the same attorneys who filed the “Ladinsky” action and assigned to Burke, who has not yet indicated whether he will grant a preliminary injunction to pause the law’s enforcement while litigation continues.
Judges for the Middle, Northern and Southern Districts of Alabama on Wednesday said they believed the plaintiffs’ actions may be cause for concern.
“As Judge Burke noted, the conduct he described in his Order could be viewed as evidencing an intent to circumvent the practice of random case assignment,” Judges Keith Watkins, David Proctor and Jeffrey Beaverstock wrote in the order filed Wednesday.
More than 30 attorneys have been ordered to appear before the judges on May 20 at the Frank M. Johnson Jr. Courthouse in Montgomery, Ala. to “allow the panel to inquire about the issues raised by counsel’s actions,” according to the order.
The panel of judges in their order also invited Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall – who is named as a defendant – and several lawyers for the state that are defending the Alabama law, officially titled the “Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act,” to appear.
“Although this proceeding will not be adversarial in nature, invited defense counsel may present any factual evidence they have that may assist the panel in determining whether there was any attempt to circumvent the random case assignment procedures of the United States District Courts for the Northern District of Alabama and the Middle District of Alabama,” the judges wrote.