In yet another example of Trump judges interfering with Biden Administration initiatives, Trump district court Judge Terry Doughty issued a preliminary injunction against President Biden’s temporary suspension of new oil and gas leases on federal lands and waters, harming Biden efforts to “cut fossil fuel pollution and conserve public lands.” The June 15, 2021 decision was in State of Louisiana v Biden.
In an early Biden Administration action to help deal with pollution and climate change problems, President Biden ordered a halt to new leases for oil and grass drilling in offshore waters and on public lands while the administration conducts a comprehensive environmental and financial review of leasing practices. Louisiana and a number of other Repubican states promptly sued, claiming that the President did not have the authority to order the pause. The case is being heard by Trump district court judge Terry Doughty in the western district of Louisiana, who largely agreed with the Republican states. He ordered a preliminary injunction against the pause, not just in Louisiana but nationwide, claiming that the states would lose revenue if the leasing is suspended and that there is a “substantial likelihood” that Biden did not have the authority to suspend the leases because such power “lies solely with Congress.”
Doughty’s order has already drawn sharp criticism. An official with the Center for Biological Diversity called the injunction “deeply dangerous,” explaining that it “turns a blind eye to runaway climate pollution that’s devastating our planet.” As DOJ maintained in defending the order, moreover, carrying out the leases without a temporary pause is not required by statute, and the law gives the President and the Secretary of the Interior “broad discretion” in leasing decisions.
The future of this litigation and the issue is unclear. The Administration may well appeal the order, although the prospects for success in the Fifth Circuit, which is heavily dominated by Trump and other very conservative judges, are not encouraging. Members of Congress have already stated that Congress can and should act on the issue.
The case is yet another example of the dangers posed by Trump judges to the important Biden agenda, and emphasizes the need for the Senate to fill as many federal court vacancies with Biden nominees as rapidly as possible, in order to counterbalance Trump judges as part of our fight for our courts.
Update: In August 2022, a three-judge panel on the Fifth Circuit, not including any Trump judges, unanimously vacated the injunction and sent the case back to the lower court. The very next day, Trump judge Doughty issued a permanent injunction blocking the suspension of new oil and gas leases.