‘Horsefeathers!’ Said the Judge

Patience is a virtue—so the old saying goes. That’s especially true when you are fighting against government bureaucrats who never seem to tire in their battles against the rights of everyday citizens.

In the case of Sidney Longwell, of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, his patience was tested to the utter limit.
For thirty-five years, Mr. Longwell fought a David vs. Goliath battle against the ultimate legal foe—the federal government.

Thankfully, days ago, with the help of Mountain States Legal Foundation, Mr. Longwell won.

Mr. Longwell first purchased a federal oil and gas lease in Montana’s Lewis and Clark National Forest in 1982. Despite passing decade-long environmental and archeological reviews, the Clinton administration suspended his lease in 1993, and continued to suspend the lease—ultimately, the suspension lasted for over two decades—for a list of ever- changing reasons.

Mr. Longwell’s thirty five-year battle with the federal government ended on September 24th, when a federal judge ruled that the Department of the Interior had wrongly cancelled his oil and gas lease and revoked his right to drill.

In his ruling, Judge Richard J. Leon of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia criticized the federal government for its “unreasonable agency delay,” which he characterized as “Kafkaesque.”

In 2015, Mr. Longwell won his initial court battle over the government’s unreasonable delays. In 2016, however, the federal government, when pressed by the judge to make a decision regarding whether Mr. Longwell could drill on

his lease, did the unthink- able and unprecedented—it responded by cancelling Mr. Longwell’s lease altogether and voided the permit to drill he received in 1993!

What if a business owner behaved that way. Imagine a customer paying for the product and then waiting in line for thirty-five years only to be told, “Sorry, we’re not giving you what you paid for but we’re keeping your money!”

Judge Leon pulled no punches in his ruling. He blasted the government’s “arbitrary and capricious” decision to cancel the lease after three decades. “Federal defendants appear to argue that no time-period, however long,

would prove too attenuated to reconsider the issuance of a lease under newly discovered legal theories… Horsefeathers!”

Judge Leon ordered Mr. Longwell’s lease and his right to drill reinstated.

The government has 60 days to appeal Judge Leon’s ruling. Therefore Mr. Longwell’s battle may not be over yet. So far, the Trump administration has continued to support the decision of Obama’s Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, to cancel the lease. More ominously, radical environmental groups that intervened in Mr. Longwell’s lawsuit say they will never give up on their demand that Mr. Longwell’s rights be taken away from him.

“The assertion by the federal government in this case is unprecedented,” says William Perry Pendley, president of Mountain States Legal Foundation, which represents Mr. Longwell. “The judge got it exactly right and we are thrilled for Mr. Longwell. The government has to respect the contracts it signs.”

When fighting a court battle against the government in defense of their rights, many people run out of money to pay the high legal costs involved, or they simply run out of willpower and give up. Thankfully, Mr. Longwell had the patience to see his battle through. Thankfully, MSLF’s supporters made it possible for us to stand and fight next to him over the course of his long struggle.

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