Utah’s lawsuit against national monuments dropped by federal judge
(CN) — Hundreds of thousands of acres of the Grand Staircase–Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments in Utah will remain protected after a federal judge in Utah dismissed on Friday a lawsuit brought by the state of Utah and Garfield County that claimed President Joe Biden’s restoration of the national monuments was illegal.
“In spite of the sincere and deeply held view of the plaintiffs, there is no relief for them in this action,” wrote U.S. District Court Judge David Nuffer, an Obama appointee, in his ruling dismissing the suit with prejudice, “President Biden’s judgment in drafting and issuing the proclamations as he sees fit is not an action reviewable by a district court.”
The state of Utah, the state’s governor and attorney general, and two of the state’s county governments filed a lawsuit against the president that claimed that he violated the Antiquities Act by restoring acreage to both national monuments after President Donald Trump chopped acres of land from the two in 2017 through a presidential proclamation.
The Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument was established by President Bill Clinton in 1996 through a proclamation, and Bears Ears National Monument was established by President Barack Obama in 2016 through a presidential proclamation. Both monuments contain land significant to Native Americans and are ecologically and archeologically significant as well.
“Before deciding if the proclamations are unlawful, the court must decide if they can be reviewed by a court. They cannot. Judicial review requires a waiver of sovereign immunity, which is not present,” Nuffer wrote.
To move forward with the lawsuit, Utah would have had to get a waiver from Congress to sue the president and the federal government, which they didn’t do.
Nuffer went on to write that Utah claimed that Biden violated the Antiquities Act by restoring acreage lost to both National Monuments, but the law grants presidents broad power to bring vast amounts of federal land under protection with the only caveat that the land should be “confined to the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected,” a caveat which no court of appeals has addressed exactly how to interpret yet.
“Therefore, they are statutory claims, and judicial review is unavailable. A 'president’s actions may … be reviewed for constitutionality.’ Plaintiffs did not make any constitutional challenges in their amended complaints,” Nuffer added.
The plaintiffs also claimed that a Bureau of Land Management memorandum about the president’s proclamation constituted a “final agency action,” which caused them harm because it restricts their use of the protected land and the right to approve mineral mining leases.
But Nuffer said that the memorandum is only a preliminary document that gives interim guidance to the bureau.
“And plaintiffs do not have standing to allege a denial of a permit because they were not harmed,” Nuffer wrote.
In the past, Congress has restrained the president’s power to protect federal land under the Antiquities Act , Nufffer wrote, once when President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed the Jackson Hole National Monument in 1943, when Congress amended the law to restrict extensions or new national monuments in Wyoming, and in 1978 when Jimmy Carter proclaimed the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve. Congress then passed a law that prohibits presidents from declaring more than five thousand acres under federal protection.
Other than that, “since 1920, there have been several challenges to a president’s authority to withdraw land as a national monument under the Antiquities Act. These include challenges to the Grand Canyon, Jackson Hole, Devil’s Hole, Grand Sequoia, Grand Canyon-Parashant, Canyons of the Ancients, Cascade-Siskiyou, Hanford Reach, Ironwood Forest, Sonoran Desert, Grand Staircase-Escalante, and Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine national monuments. Each of these challenges has been unsuccessful,” Nuffer wrote.
The lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice, barring the state from refiling their claims again.
Justice Department spokesperson Matthew Nies declined to comment.
Attorneys the state of Utah did not immediately return requests for comment.