Last December 2017, the legal team for undercover citizen journalist David Daleiden, who exposed the abortion industry’s role in the trafficking of aborted baby body parts, filed a petition for an “extraordinary writ of mandamus” in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

The petition asked that the appellate court order that William Orrick, a San Francisco federal judge, step down from presiding over two lawsuits, owing to an apparent conflict of interest and other facts creating the appearance of bias. On Wednesday, February 28th, a three-judge “motions panel” ruled that Daleiden’s “petition for writ of mandamus raises issues that warrant an answer.” The panel ordered that the abortion groups suing Daleiden in Judge Orrick’s courtroom, namely, Planned Parenthood Federation of America (“PPFA”), its many California-based affiliates as well as others, and the National Abortion Federation (“NAF”), file answers to the mandamus petition within 14 days.

The panel further directed that in their answers, the abortion groups “shall address the basis for the district court’s denial of [Daleiden’s] motion for disqualification of Judge William H. Orrick under 28 U.S.C. Secs. 144, 455(a) and 455(b)(1).” And the panel specified that, “in particular,” the answers [shall] address Judge Orrick’s relationship with Good Samaritan Family Resource Center.” 

The three-judge panel is comprised of Senior Circuit Judge William C. Canby, Jr., Senior Circuit Judge Stephen S. Trott, and Circuit Judge Paul J. Watford. They added in their terse order that Judge Orrick might also “address the petition if [he] so desires,” either by filing an answer in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals or by issuing an order and serving a copy on the appellate court. Daleiden is to file a reply in 5 days after service of the answers, and all relevant papers “shall be referred to the next available motions panel.” The order was to be served not only on Judge Orrick, but also on District Judge James Donato, to whom Judge Orrick had referred Daleiden’s initial motions for disqualification and who denied both of them. 

Judge Orrick issued a gag order, which Daleiden is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down as an illicit “prior restraint” on free speech, censoring Daleiden’s remaining video footage taken at National Abortion Federation annual meetings in 2015 and 2016. On Monday, February 26th, National Abortion Federation’s counsel filed its opposition to the Supreme Court hearing the appeal. Earlier, the group had formally waived its right to respond, but the justices ordered that it respond.