GOP Bill Shifts Oil Drilling Cases to Court Dominated by Judges With Oil Investments

Yesterday, the House passed the so-called “Putting the Gulf Back to Work Act,” which is intended to make it easier for the oil industry to drill in the Gulf of Mexico. Sadly, this bill also continues the GOP’s longstanding practice of rigging the court system to favor wealthy and influential interest groups. Tucked within the bill is a provision that consigns many lawsuits involving oil drilling into a federal court that is dominated by judges with close ties to the oil industry:


Venue for any covered civil action shall not lie in any district court not within the 5th circuit unless there is no proper venue in any court within that circuit.

It should come as no surprise that the oil industries’ allies in Congress want to make sure that only Fifth Circuit judges get to hear the industry’s appeals. When it is not busy ordering high school cheerleaders to pay $45,000 because they sued the school district that required them to cheer for their alleged rapist, the Fifth Circuit’s judges have cozied up tightly with the oil industry.

Ten of the Fifth Circuit’s sixteen active judges have oil investments, including Chief Judge Edith Jones, who owns as much as $330,000 in oil interests. Two Fifth Circuit judges, Jerry Smith and Eugene Davis, even ruled in favor of the oil industry in a major drilling moratorium case despite the fact that they both attended expense-paid “junkets for judges” sponsored by an oil-industry funded organization. A third Fifth Circuit judge, Edith Clement, actually serves on the board of this organization, despite an opinion from the federal judiciary’s ethics committee saying that Clement violates her ethical obligations by remaining on this board.

The House GOP’s effort to shift the oil industry’s litigation into a court dominated by oil-friendly judges in only the right’s latest attempt to stack the deck in favor of corporate parties and against ordinary Americans:

  • Forced Arbitration: Last month, Justice Scalia penned a 5-4 opinion expanding an abusive practice known as “forced arbitration” that allows corporations to force their consumers, workers and patients to sign away their right to sue the company in a real court, and instead bring any lawsuits in a privatized arbitration system that overwhelming favors corporations.
  • Court Packing: The Florida GOP is pushing a court packing plan that would neuter the state supreme court’s Democratic appointees and allow Gov. Rick Scott (R) to appoint three new justices.

It’s bad enough that corporate America thinks that they are above the law, but it is inexcusable that the GOP is fighting tooth and nail to give the wealthiest and most powerful interests all the legal immunity their hearts’ desire.