It is a sad indictment of our society today that a judge with such a sterling record of integrity and service to his country would be subject to such threats. Feldman was appointed to the federal bench by President Reagan in 1983. Today, he is in the eye of a political hurricane unlike anything he has ever experienced.
In issuing his ruling, Feldman said that the moratorium was faulty because there was no “rational connection between the facts found and the choice made.” While there is often debate about the merits of judicial decisions, seldom does the criticism focus on the integrity of the judge. Right after he issued the ruling, Feldman came under attack as a tool of the oil industry. Media outlets reporters noted that the Judge held stock in oil and gas companies and implied that his decision was based on his own personal financial considerations. Such a personal attack is unfair and completely unwarranted, especially for Feldman, a distinguished judge known for his commitment to the law and a jurist who has earned the praise of people throughout the legal community.
Much of the sensational reporting on Feldman’s investments was based on outdated information. The Judge was blasted for owning stock in Transocean, Ltd and Halliburton, two of the major companies involved in the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Feldman owned those stocks in 2008; however, he sold those shares long before issuing his ruling this week. In fact, this updated information will be released in the next report on his stock holdings.
If Feldman held financial interests in any of companies involved in the lawsuit or the Deepwater Horizon rig, he would not have been allowed the take the case. The 5th District Court uses a sophisticated computer system to check whether judges have a conflict of interest in any legal proceeding. This system automatically determines whether a judge needs to be recused from a particular case. In this lawsuit, Feldman was allowed to take the case because he did not own any stock related to the parties involved.
The attack was not based on facts, but it was a character assassination as a way to mitigate the influence of the scathing decision. If anyone should be questioned, it is the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar who disregarded the advice of his own scientific experts in declaring the deep water drilling moratorium. In the wake of the Judge’s ruling, Salazar said he would issue a “refined” moratorium, ask for a stay of the ruling and appeal the decision. Some legal experts predicted the preliminary injunction would lead the government to compromise on the moratorium. In fact, Salazar decided to be confrontational instead of working with business interests in Louisiana to find common ground.
The lawsuit was filed against the Department of Interior by more than a dozen companies involved in offshore drilling operations, led by Hornbeck Offshore Services LLC. Feldman found that the Obama administration did not base the moratorium on solid facts and made a sweeping decision that was not justified. The Judge noted that just because the BP well was beset with problems and resulted in a massive oil spill, there is no reason to believe other wells would have similar problems. "If some drilling equipment parts are flawed, is it rational to say all are? Are all airplanes a danger because one was? All oil tankers like Exxon Valdez? All trains? All mines? That sort of thinking seems heavy-handed, and rather overbearing,” Feldman wrote.
Feldman is right on target with his ruling, which is why a constant stream of people thanked him last night for his decision. The final outcome remains in doubt, but Feldman exposed the faulty reasoning that the Obama administration used in banning deepwater drilling. The suspension of drilling in the 33 wells 500 feet or more below the surface could have a major impact on Louisiana’s economy. According to some estimates, the ban could cost the state of Louisiana 50,000 jobs or more. In a horrible economy, these are good paying jobs that no state can afford to lose.