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In Weaponized Courts, Judge Who Halted Affordable Care Act Is a Conservative Favorite


Judge Reed O’Connor, a federal judge in Texas, has often sided with Republicans in their challenges to Democratic policies.
HOUSTON — In the 11 years Judge Reed C. O’Connor has been on the federal bench, he has become a favorite of Republican leaders in Texas, reliably tossing out Democratic policies they have challenged.
The state’s Republican attorney general appears to strategically file key lawsuits in Judge O’Connor’s jurisdiction, the Northern District of Texas, so that he will hear them. And on Friday, the judge handed Republicans another victory by striking down the Affordable Care Act, the signature health law of the Obama era.
Judge O’Connor, who was appointed by former President George W. Bush, has been at the center of some of the most contentious and partisan cases involving federal power and states’ rights, and has sided with conservative leaders in previous challenges to the health law and against efforts to expand transgender rights.
No one questions his expertise on the law. But his rulings illustrate the ways in which the federal district courts have become politically weaponized, as Republicans and Democrats alike try to handpick judges they see as ideologically friendly to their cases.
[ Read: The ruling has thrust the health care debate onto center stage in Washington.]
In an interview in June with the legal-news website Law360, Judge O’Connor said he approached all cases the same way. He had no comment on why the Texas attorney general, Ken Paxton, filed some of his major cases challenging Obama-era policies in Wichita Falls, Tex., where he is the only district judge who hears cases, and in Fort Worth, where he is the only district judge who is not semiretired.
But when asked about a former clerk who described him as a mainstream conservative and not a Trump-style conservative, the judge offered an explanation of his approach to the bench.
“All I’d prefer to say is I try to approach it based on the arguments of both sides presented,” the judge said to Law360. “And if it’s a statutory issue or a regulatory issue, to look at the text and follow the text that one of the other branches has put forward, consistent with the rules of interpretation put forward by the Circuit.

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