Who Is Robert Pitman, Judge Who Blocked Texas Abortion Bill?

U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman on Wednesday ordered Texas to suspend the restrictive abortion law known as Senate Bill 8, referring to it as an "offensive deprivation" of a constitutional right.

The ruling thrust the federal judge into the national spotlight, but the lifelong Texan has drawn controversy before.

Texas gov. Greg Abbott
U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman has ruled the restrictive abortion law in Texas supported by Governor Greg Abbott is unconstitutional. Above, Abbott speaks during a press conference on June 8. Montinique Monroe/Getty Images

Pitman was born in Fort Worth and received a Bachelor of Science degree from Abilene Christian University, a Juris Doctor from the University of Texas School of Law and a Master of Studies degree in international human rights law from the University of Oxford.

After years working as an attorney, Pitman was chosen to serve as a United States magistrate judge for the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas in 2003. Texas lawmakers, impressed with his work as a magistrate judge, recommended Pitman to President Barack Obama as one of two candidates for United States attorney for the Western District of Texas.

The recommendation of the openly gay Pitman was opposed by some conservatives in the state, even though his name was given to Obama by Texas Senators John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison, who are both Republican. Tim Lambert, president of the conservative Texas Home School Coalition—the largest state advocacy organization for home school families—told The Dallas Morning News Pitman's recommendation was "very unusual and disturbing."

In 2011, Obama appointed Pitman as United States attorney for the Western District of Texas, making him the first openly gay U.S. attorney in state history.

In 2014, Obama gave him another assignment, as a U.S. district judge for the Western District of Texas. The appointment made Pitman the first openly gay judge to sit on the federal bench in Texas.

Before Wednesday's decision on the abortion law, one of Pitman's most well-known rulings came in 2019, when he blocked enforcement of a Texas law that required contractors to certify that they don't support boycotts of Israel. Pitman said in his 56-page opinion that boycotts are protected free speech and that the law failed to serve a compelling state interest.

The restrictive abortion law he ruled against on Wednesday is supported by Texas Governor Greg Abbott, and Pitman's latest decision isn't the first time he has pushed back against the state's Republican leader.

In October 2020, Pitman granted a preliminary injunction that barred enforcement of Abbott's order that reduced the number of absentee ballot drop-off locations to one per county. The governor's move was seen as mainly targeting large cities, which are Democratic strongholds in the state. A federal appeals court, consisting of three judges appointed by President Donald Trump, later upheld Abbott's original order.