Trump-appointed federal judge Matthew Kacsmaryk has become the go-to judge for right-wing groups seeking rulings that advance their political agenda. Kacsmaryk worked at religious-right First Liberty Institute before his judicial nomination; now Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has gone to that same well, appointing First Liberty Institute senior counsel Jordan Pratt to the state’s Fifth District Court of Appeal.
First Liberty Institute is hostile to reproductive choice and legal equality for LGBTQ Americans. For years, it has sounded false alarms about supposed anti-Christian persecution in the United States. After Trump’s defeat in the 2020 election, First Liberty Institute’s president signed a letter urging GOP senators to contest Electoral College votes from swing states won by President Joe Biden.
Pratt, a member of the Federalist Society, joined First Liberty in 2021. During the Trump administration, Pratt worked at the Justice Department to help Trump fill federal courts with likeminded judges. His nomination by DeSantis was praised by the Federalist Society’s Jacksonville chapter as well as by First Liberty President Kelly Shackelford.
Kacsmaryk’s record suggests what we might expect from a Judge Pratt. In 2019, People For the American Way strongly opposed Kacsmaryk’s confirmation, noting his “history of targeting those who do not live according to his particular social and religious beliefs” and warning—accurately—that his confirmation would “put reproductive freedom in danger.” Just last week, Kacsmaryk issued a ruling suspending the Federal Drug Administration’s decades-old approval of the abortion drug mifepristone. The lawsuit challenging FDA approval of mifepristone was filed by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a powerful religious-right legal group with a goal of banning abortion nationwide.
In his anti-mifepristone ruling, Kacsmaryk adopted advocacy language from the anti-choice movement, rejecting the medically accurate term “fetus” in favor of “unborn human.” Loyola Law School Professor Jessica Levison has described Kacsmaryk’s decision as “riddled with legal and factual errors,” and wrote that his use of an 1870s law, the Comstock Act, “essentially resurrects baseless arguments and once-dead law to wreak havoc on our settled legal principles.” Even the conservative Wall Street Journal editorial board recognized that Kacsmaryk is “overstepping his authority” in the case.
Florida appeals court judges are appointed by the governor from a list prepared by a judicial nominating commission. After serving for at least a year, they face a yes-or-no retention vote on a general election ballot, potentially winning a six-year term.