The Oil Industry’s Go-To Judge Comes Through

As the BP well in the Gulf of Mexico continues to spew out ever more toxic oil and methane into the sea, floating toxic sludge, by the millions of gallons, starts destroying the wetlands across the American Southeast, the dead hand of President Ronald Reagan is at work, making sure nothing is done to prevent yet another such disaster from occurring.

The name of that dead hand is Martin Leach-Cross Feldman, a federal judge in Louisiana, a part of the notoriously right-wing Fifth Circuit.

Feldman, appointed to the federal bench by President Reagan and approved by the Republican-led Senate in 1983, has been a craven supporter of corporations over the public interest for years. In the wake of the Katrina disaster in New Orleans, for example, Judge Feldman ruled against homeowners who tried to bring a racketeering case against Clipper Estates, the corporate owner of their housing development, claiming that the company had stolen money it collected from them allegedly for repairs, for the owner’s personal use. The judge ruled that homeowners had no standing to sue.

Now, using classic Reaganesque logic (remember our senile ex-president’s mocking argument to environmentalist that because trees release carbon dioxide at night, they must be “polluters”?), Judge Feldman has issued a temporary restraining order against the White House’s six-month freeze on offshore drilling. His rationale for overturning the moratorium on drilling: The government hadn’t provided an adequate justification for it.

As the judge put it: “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”.

Well actually Judge, yes it is rational as a matter of fact. When the Exxon Valdez was crashed by a drunken captain into a rockpile, and its hold was gashed open, spewing 11 million gallons of crude oil into the pristine waters of Prince William Sound, it exposed for all to see the danger of single-hull supertankers, and led to requirements that tankers be built with double hulls. And yes, when an engine fell off a DC-10 jumbo jet, causing a fatal crash, all DC-10s were grounded until the problem was figured out, and all those planes around the world were refitted with a new pylon design. Similarly, when a few Toyota Prius cars were found to develop stuck accelerators, all Prius cars of that model were ordered back to the shop for repairs.

As a matter of fact Judge Feldman, a moratorium on new deep water drilling is exactly the proper response to a disaster that causes huge damage, or that poses the risk of significant deaths. You stop the practice until you can figure out what caused it and what needs to be done to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

You jerk.

But hey, logic never played much of a role in Ronald Reagan’s presidency, and why should we expect it to play any role in the thinking of a judicial appointee backed by one of America’s most unintellectual and least thoughtful presidents, perhaps rivaled only by the recent George W. Bush.

If anything it is shameful that it took the Obama administration so long–more than two weeks–to issue the moratorium on deepwater drilling. It is shameful in fact that the administration still hasn’t put a moratorium on all undersea drilling. After all, we have already had blowouts similar to the BP disaster in shallow water, most recently in the Timor Sea off Australia, where a disaster very similar to the one in the Gulf of Mexico last year saw oil spilling out in massive quantities for months while a relief well was drilled. So it’s not just deep water wells that are dangerous.

But timid and deferential to the oil interests as the Obama administration has been and remains, Judge Feldman takes things to a whole new level with the soaring scale of his inanity.

One almost has to hope that yet another drilling project in the deep water off the Louisiana coast suffers a similar catastrophe, if only to expose this kind of judicial cretinism–or corruption–for what it is.

But of course, Judge Feldman is no idiot. Rather, he appears to be a tool of the oil industry. In his required financial disclosure statement, he reported owning stock as recently as 2008 in offshore drilling companies, including up to $15,000 worth of shares in Transocean, the owner of the ill-fated Deepwater Horizon rig now sitting at the bottom of the Gulf.

Now I’m sure that if Transocean were a plaintiff in the lawsuit by oil industry firms and the state of Louisiana aimed at overturning the federal moratorium on deepwater drilling, the judge would have recused himself. But under the pinched ethical standards of our judiciary system, since Transamerica is not a plaintiff, and since none of the other drilling companies which the judge has reported owning upwards of $50,000 worth of shares in are plaintiffs, he feels free to issue his ruling. Of course, those companies he is an investor in do stand to lose if the moratorium is lefty in effect, and they stand to make money if it is overturned, but we shouldn’t be bothered by that.

The truth is that Judge Feldman probably would have ruled as he did whether he owned drilling company stock or not. It’s his basic ideology that is the problem here, not crass personal corruption, and it ‘s why he was given his robes in the first place.

Judge Feldman is a manifestation of Ronald Reagan, reaching out from the grave like that hand floating up out of the water at the end of the movie Deliverance, to wreak yet more havoc on the nation and the globe.

As long as Reagan’s judicial appointees still warm the benches of the nation’s courts, that wretched old coot ain’t fully dead yet.

DAVE LINDORFF is a Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist at His latest book is “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006 and now available in paperback). He can be reached at




CounterPunch contributor and founder of ThisCan’tBeHappening!, DAVE LINDORFF co-produced the 2023 Stevee James-directed feature-length documentary film “A Compassionate Spy” on the life of teenage Los Alamos spy Ted Hall and his wife of 51 years, Joan Hall, now streaming on Hulu, Youtube, Apple TV, Vudu and Google Play. His latest book,“A Spy for No Country” (Prometheuis Books, 2024) was published in January.