US Reporter

US District Judge Thomas Owen Rice’s Ruling on Mifepristone: A Deep Dive into the Controversy

US Locale Judge Thomas Owen Rice is a government judge serving in the Eastern Region of Washington. Previous President Barack Obama selected him so he has been serving on the seat beginning around 2014. He was a prosecutor for more than two decades and a partner at a private law firm prior to his appointment.

Rice recently made headlines when he decided to uphold the availability of the medicine mifepristone in 17 states plus the District of Columbia, in defiance of a judgment made by another federal judge in Texas. The medication, which the FDA licensed in 2000, is used in conjunction with misoprostol to end pregnancies.

The Texas administering, which was given by US Region Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk – a Trump nominee – required the end of the FDA’s endorsement of mifepristone. However, Rice’s decision contradicts Kacsmaryk’s, creating confusion and ambiguity regarding the drug’s future.

Rice’s decision was a reaction to a claim recorded by the American School of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and different gatherings. The lawsuit argued that mifepristone restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic put public health at risk because patients would have to travel to clinics to get the drug instead of being able to get it via telemedicine.

In his decision, Rice stated that there was no proof that getting mifepristone via telemedicine put patients at higher risk than getting it in person. He added that the prohibitions placed on the medicine during the epidemic were arbitrary and capricious because they were not supported by scientific data.

Safe and Legal Abortion

The conflicting rulings from Kacsmaryk and Rice have brought attention to the issue of reproductive rights and the role of the judiciary in shaping those rights. The fate of mifepristone, and by extension, the ability to access safe and legal abortion, may ultimately be decided by the US Supreme Court.

As the legal battles over mifepristone continue, Judge Rice’s ruling serves as a reminder of the importance of access to safe and effective healthcare, particularly during times of crisis. It also highlights the vital role that judges play in upholding the rights of patients and ensuring that medical decisions are based on sound science and evidence.

He was appointed to the position in 2011 by former President Barack Obama and was confirmed by the US Senate in 2012 with a vote of 93-4. Prior to his appointment, Rice served as an assistant US attorney in Washington state, where he focused on eminent domain and Social Security claims. 

In addition, he served as a trial lawyer in the tax division of the Department of Justice, focusing on legal cases involving abusive tax shelters.

Throughout his career, Rice has presided over a number of high-profile cases, including cases related to reproductive rights, voting rights, and gun control. Rice granted a permanent injunction in 2018 that prohibited the Trump administration from discontinuing grants to a Planned Parenthood initiative that supported nationwide programs for preventing teenage pregnancy.

In his ruling, Rice cited the public interest and the importance of preventing harm to the community and loss of data regarding the effectiveness of teen pregnancy prevention.

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Voting Rights

Rice has also been a strong advocate for voting rights. In 2014, he ruled that the City of Yakima’s “at-large” seats on the City Council violated the Voting Rights Act by preventing Latinos from electing members who represented their Latino-majority community. 

In his decision, Rice emphasized the importance of ensuring that elections are “equally open to participation” by all voters and criticized the City’s numbered post system for placing Latino voters at a mathematical disadvantage.

Lately, Rice has been overseeing legal proceedings regarding federal firearms violations, the assault of a federal officer with a lethal weapon, and the illicit acquisition of COVID-19 relief funds. His commitment to upholding the law and protecting the rights of individuals has earned him a reputation as a fair, impartial judge who is dedicated to justice.

As Rice’s rulings on a range of issues have demonstrated, judges play a crucial role in shaping the legal landscape and ensuring that the rights of all individuals are protected. 

In today’s politically charged environment, it is more important than ever to have judges who are committed to sustaining the rule of law and protecting the fundamental rights of all Americans. Judge Rice’s record of service and dedication to justice make him a valuable asset to the Eastern District of Washington and to the country as a whole.

While Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk of Texas ruled that the Food and Drug Administration’s 2000 approval of the drug should be halted, Judge Rice ordered the federal government to keep it available in 17 states plus the District of Columbia. This discrepancy has led to the possibility of the US Supreme Court intervening in the matter.

Confirmation Hearing

In light of Judge Rice’s ruling, it’s worth taking a closer look at his career and judicial philosophy. Prior to his appointment, he served as an assistant US attorney in Washington state, focusing on issues associated with eminent domain and Social Security claims. 

During his confirmation hearing, Rice was asked how he would see the decisions of higher courts. He responded that he was committed to following their precedents faithfully and giving them full force and effect, even if he personally disagreed with them. 

When questioned about how he would make decisions on cases of first impression in the absence of controlling precedents, Rice stated that his initial step would be to refer to the straightforward meaning of the statute’s language.

If necessary, he would seek to determine the context and intent of Congress, look to analogous cases from the Supreme Court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals for guidance, and consult other federal court decisions that considered the issue or like issues.

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Rice Determination

This judicial philosophy has been reflected in Rice’s past rulings. In 2018, he issued a permanent injunction blocking the Trump administration from ceasing grants to a Planned Parenthood program that backed teen pregnancy prevention programs around the country. 

The decision was based on Rice’s determination that the public interest weighed in favor of Planned Parenthood, as it would avoid harm to the community and avoid loss of data regarding the effectiveness of teen pregnancy prevention.

Rice has also ruled on cases related to the Voting Rights Act and federal firearm offenses, assault of a federal officer with a deadly weapon, and fraudulently obtained Covid-19 relief funds. His decisions have shown a commitment to following established precedents while also considering the specific facts and circumstances of each case.

As the conflicting rulings on mifepristone work their way through the appeals process, it remains to be seen how the higher courts will ultimately decide. But Judge Rice’s past record suggests that he will continue to apply established legal principles and consider the public interest in his rulings.

Photo: Toronto

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