Impeach the Oil-Investing Judge Who Declared Deep Sea Drilling Ban Void

Judge Martin Leach-Cross FeldmanA 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.

So, let's take back our country. Stand up to Big Oil and its big apologists like Joe Barton and Sarah Palin, and hold the courts to account. Impeach Judge Feldman.

Lisa Graves is the Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy.

Lisa Graves

Lisa Graves is President of the Board of the Center for Media and Democracy and President of True North Research. She is a well-known researcher, writer, and public speaker. Her research and analysis have been cited by every major paper in the country and featured in critically acclaimed books and documentaries, including Ava Du Vernay’s award-winning film, “The 13th,” Bill Moyers’s “United States of ALEC,” and Showtime’s “Years of Living Dangerously.”



Ms. Graves, Perhaps your concern for "working people" should extend to the thousands of oil indistry workers unable to work as a result of the moratorium and the untold damage to the gulf states as a result. Thank you to Judge Feldman for balancing the potential risks of deepwater drilling against the immediate damage of the moratorium and requiring the federal government to provide a raionale for its actions. He has taken a stand for working people in the gulf. CPP

Dear CPP-- Thanks for your note about Judge Feldman's decision. The moratorium is related to new deep-water drilling, not all drilling operations, so its scope is limited, as is its duration. I'm certain the number of workers affected by a temporary halt of new deep-water drilling pales in comparison to the number of workers whose jobs have already been lost due to the disaster to date, and many of those job losses are long-term losses. It's not going to be a mere six months before the oyster harvesting makes a comeback; it may be years. And, then there are the shrimping and fishing and crabbing jobs, and along with them those in the chain of distribution. And, then there will be the job losses in the restaurant and hotel industries along the once beautiful beaches, hundreds of miles of coastlines and small towns dependent on tourism as a key engine in their economy. Or, we could just go on with business as usual in the wake of the worst toxic spill in U.S. history. That wouldn't be prudent and could cost even more jobs in the long-run. But if you want to sign up for Judge Feldman's fan club, it's your right. How anyone can think that he should not have recused himself from deciding about a case that directly affects his personal financial investments in off-shore drilling is beyond me. But, overlooking that conflict of interest and the appearance of bias is simply not for me. Still, if you're one of the oil workers who is about the head-off to help with more deep-sea exploration then I genuinely am sorry that your job is at risk. But, I don't think anyone's job, temporary or decades long, is worth a deal with the devil to risk the destruction of the coastline of our country. There has to be a better way. Lisa

Lisa, how do ordinary citizens go about initiating an impeachment effort? Who do they need to contact? Here is an example of multinational Corporate Power superceding our National Sovereignty. It used to be called Fascism before the Right Wing got hold of the term. I don't understand why the Right Wing rank and file aren't upset by it?

Thank you for your query about initiating impeachment proceedings. Under the U.S. Constitution, impeachment proceedings for judicial officers and any other federal officials must be initiated in the U.S. House of Representatives. The congressional committee that has historically examined such matters is the Judiciary Committee. Here is a link to the list of the Members of that Committee: Lisa

So when is the impeacment process going to start? Or when is the US Department of Justice going to censor this Judge for conflict of intrest? Is this appointed official above the law?????

I think that in the world today, there are two types of things that people encounter -those that has a heart for business and those that has a heart. This case is a classic example of what I call a heart for business. We have had problems with the way oil is being priced, deregulated and extracted from many other countries, now that we are having problems, are we going to add up our country to those that exploit too much of mother nature? Hopefully not.

Why don't all you intelligent liberals tell us what the answer is to this countries problems.

Sir: Liberals have been coming up with a multitude of answers for a multitude of years, but we are continually blocked by rich, corporate powers and their legions of "trial lawyers". We have known for nearly a hundred years that we were going to eventually run out of oil, but no one has done a thing to get us off it. Liberals have said for years that we should invest in solar technologies, wind, geothermal and a host of other possibilities. The only reason that has not occurred is corporate greed, They would rather destroy the environment and the lives of millions than to lose even one penny. This is immoral and unconscionable. It is certainly not "Christian". So, here are just a few ideas for you: 1. Tax the oil companies and put that money into solar, wind and other renewable technologies. 2. Do not allow oil companies to have tax shelters in the Cayman Islands and other places. Most of us pay our fair share of taxes. So should the big corporations. 3. If this is truly a government "of, by, and for the people" we should NEVER have a former oil company or chemical company official as head of the EPA. A true "Environmental protection agency" would be headed by a former Sierra Club president or the Nature Conservancy or even the head of "Greenpeace". If oil companies want to set up an "Oil Company Protection Agency" they have a right to petition congress to do so, but don't put oil company executives in charge of our environment. It is criminal. 4. Make sure that our government has the resources to handle national disasters such as the BP spill, and authorize that these companies will comply with the government... not the other way around. The fact that the same Republicans who insisted on "smaller government" are now yelling at Obama for inadequate help is laughable if it weren't so tragic. If you want help from the government you need to be willing to PAY TAXES to pay for it. If you don't want to do that, you should get no help from our government. That's what the GOP wanted, and now they are destroying the entire southern coastline of the U.S.A. Congratulations! 5. Many seem to be worried more about the jobs of the oil companies than they are about the environment. They seem to be willing to risk ruining even more of our land and animals to save a few thousand jobs. So, here's a solution to that one. Government sets up a program to train and then employ all of these oil company workers in new solar and wind companies. That way everybody wins... the environment and the workers. Of course this will require additional tax revenue. So, tax the Hell out of BP, Exxon, Shell, and all the others who have made billions off of OUR land. They don't even own it! 6. And finally... let me ask you. What is YOUR solution? So far all the GOP has done is block everything we liberals have tried to do to protect our environment. If you are not going to work with us, all is lost. Do you plan to destroy the entire world just to make a dollar? Better get your priorities straight. It's YOUR children that this will affect. If you care more about money than life itself, we are all screwed.

It's the age-old conflict between immediate self-ineterest and long-term common good. Times like the Gulf Coast crisis present an opportunity to re-evaluate positions. What good is a million bucks of oil profits in the bank if their own children and grandchildren won't have a planet to enjoy. Or has the self-interest gotten so narrow that they don't care about the future of their own offspring? There is profit to be made in alternative technologies. Oil is going the way of the dinosaur. It has served its purpose up to a point but it's time to move on.

Do you own a car? Do you like to travel? I quit blaming BP. Everyone is at fault....