A federal judge sitting in Louisiana struck down the Obama Administration's six-month moratorium on new deep water drilling, despite the unfolding disaster in the Gulf of Mexico caused by BP's Deepwater Horizon drilling operation. Who is the unelected man standing in the way of permitting a six-month review of this inherently dangerous activity?
Judge Martin Feldman has extensive investments in oil and gas, and not just in any oil and gas, but in Transocean Limited, the company that owned the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig. His annual financial disclosure report also showed he held tens of thousands of dollars in stock in other oil and gas exploration companies, including Ocean Energy, which helps design submersible drilling rigs.
His defense will be that none of the many oil companies he is invested in was a "party" to the federal suit challenging the President's temporary ban on new deep-sea drilling, but plainly he profits from deep-water drilling. If he had been a truly fair and prudent judge, he would have recused himself based on the Judicial Canon against creating an appearance of a conflict of interest, even if he did not invest in the specific parties to the case, because his decision certainly appears to protect his financial interests.
The initiation of an impeachment effort is the only democratic remedy for such disregard for the interests of justice. Initiating impeachment against Judge Feldman would draw an important line in the sand for other judges who might rule in favor of the industries they invest in, and hide behind the technicality that the specific company they hold stock in was not appearing before them. This marker is essential given recent federal decisions like Citizens United and other cases that have sought to expand corporate "rights" at the expense of the people. We've got to use all the democratic remedies available to fight back against this usurpation, this effort to elevate the rights of corporations over the interests of ordinary people.
Judge Feldman's decision striking down the power of the nation's highest democratically-elected official to take steps to prevent another environmental and economic disaster like BP's is an act of judicial hubris, an act of judicial activism. It is yet another in a string of corporate-favoring decisions by judges hand-picked by right-wing politicians in the U.S. to be sympathetic to their interests. Judge Feldman was selected for the federal courts 27 years ago by President Ronald Reagan, who was making a concerted effort to appoint so-called "conservatives" to the bench through ideological litmus tests.
Feldman has also been involved in the Federalist Society. That's not a crime. It's just a fact. The Federalist Society is the right-wing's club for like-minded lawyers and judges -- such a trusted club for cultivating true believers that more than half of President George W. Bush's appellate nominees to the federal courts were members or supporters of the Society. Interestingly, details from Judge Feldman's most recent presentation to a Federalist Society group have disappeared from the Web, but a brief description was discoverable and the title was "The Supreme Court as Commander-in-Chief." Interesting topic. I'm sure his remarks on the powers of the Roberts' Court would be illuminating.
Judge Feldman is part of an inner circle of especially trusted judges in the right-wing flank of the courts. In fact, he was just hand-picked by Chief Justice John Roberts himself to serve on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, yet another Republican appointee chosen to rule on national security and civil liberties by Chief Justice Roberts. Roberts, a tremendously skilled spin-master, famously acquitted himself of his long record as ideologically warrior by claiming during his Supreme Court nomination that he would be just an umpire who calls 'em as he sees 'em. If I were generous, I'd say he's more like the umpire who denied Armando Galarraga his perfect no-hitter, but then again that umpire apologized for his mistake. No, Justice Roberts and his like-minded brethren are more like the local umpires who call the strike zone bigger for their home-team pitchers and smaller for the out of towners, and there's no instant replay! Plus, here, the stakes are much, much bigger than baseball.
The stakes are about whether a president can order a temporary halt to an inherently dangerous activity that has just resulted in the gushing of millions of gallons of oil into the ocean near our shores. BP's disaster has shut down oystermen and oyster proprietors, as chef Emeril Legasse nearly wept to David Letterman, that survived more than a century's worth of natural disasters, even Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita--only to be felled by the venal greed that animated BP's callous disregard for relatively inexpensive safety measures, despite its $40 billion in pure profits per year (after exorbitant executive pay expenses), give or take a billion. This disaster is killing sea life that is part of a delicate ecosystem in the gulf, and part of the American food supply. It is killing jobs. It's undermining our fragile economy. It, and the hundreds of thousands of pounds of "dispersants" it has spread, are undermining the health of clean-up workers. It is basically a plague of biblical proportions on our nation's treasured southern coastline.
As an aside, it has been reported that like Newt Gingrich and Robert Bork, Judge Feldman recently made what may seem like the trendy pilgrimage in right-wing circles of converting to Catholicism, and with that opening the doors to an even more exclusive brotherhood than the Federalist Society, in Opus Dei. The very powerful man he boasts from the bench is his close friend, Justice Antonin Scalia, is rumored to be a member or friend of that fraternity, along with some other powerful right-wingers. But, as my extended Catholic family knows and I know well, there is tremendous diversity of views among faithful practitioners and, indeed, far more diversity of political opinion than among Federalist Society supporters.
Regardless of the moral prerogatives of obtaining forgiveness, there should be no secular absolution for Judge Feldman's deep transgression in declaring the ban on deep-water drilling "rash" while not disclosing his long-standing financial ties to deep-water drilling profits. And, his assertion of a lack of proof of the manifestly irreparable risks from deep-sea drilling would be laughable if it weren't so obviously closed-minded and ridiculously wrong. Unfortunately, there is little hope of reversing his decision with the right-wing capture of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court during George W. Bush's second term. Still, it must be rebuked by the people, if not the judges above him.
In the wake of such a gigantic disaster as poisoning America' great Gulf coast, the only thing "rash" would be to sit idly by and allow deep-water drilling to continue unabated despite the enormous risks made manifest each and every day since the Deepwater Horizon exploded, or sit on the sidelines, like failed politician Sarah Palin, and tweet about the need to protect deep-water drilling (and, she too has profited for decades from the drill-baby-drill agenda). Or to preach from the dais, like Congressman Joe Barton, that America needs to apologize for holding BP to account financially, for "shaking" them down for the billions of dollars of loss and damage the corporation has caused (and then offer an empty apology for the reaction to his true sentiments about the need to protect BP and his buddies in the oil industry). Or issue edicts from the cozy confines of the court, like Judge Feldman, and basically declare that the oil drilling industry, whose profits help him live a life of luxury, is sacrosanct and that the U.S. government is powerless to stop the drilling, even new drilling in the deep (previously blue) sea, even for a moment.
Lisa Graves is the Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy.