While scouring for some coverage of Thursday’s federal court decision on the offshore drilling moratorium, I stumbled upon a fun little nugget at the bottom of an inverted pyramid.
A New York Times piece points to several ties between the oil industry and the court that decided, in a 2-1 vote, to uphold a lower court’s decision blocking the Obama administration’s moratorium on offshore drilling. The article cites a report from the liberal advocacy group the Alliance for Justice or AFJ.
The AFJ report shows that the two justices appointed by President Ronald Reagan, Jerry E. Smith and W. Eugene Davis, had represented the oil and gas industries in private practice. The report shows that Smith’s clients included Exxon, Conoco and Sunoco. As for Davis, his clients were generally offshore drilling companies.
The judge siding with the Obama administration had even more direct ties to the offshore drilling industry. Appointed by President Bill Clinton, James L. Dennis was reported to have had investments in 18 different energy companies over the years. In 2006, Dennis sold his shares of Transocean. Yes, the same Transocean that was operating BP’s well in the Gulf that has been gushing oil for 80-plus days now. Dennis sided with the Obama administration, but one has to wonder if he should have recused himself. In fact, there's probably a good case for all three judges to recuse themselves from this decision.
This makes the whole situation far too oily for my liking. For some reason, I have almost come to expect the oil industry to seep its influence through Congress. And, given how the judicial appointment system works, why should I be surprised that oily fingerprints would make their way to a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision?
In the end, Thursday’s decision will either be appealed or made irrelevant by a side-deal between the Obama administration and the offshore drilling industry. So, the long-term legal impact of this court’s decision is somewhat unclear. What seems to have become even murkier, other than the Gulf of Mexico, is the judicial system’s objectivity.