The Antiquities Act of 1908 authorizes the President to declare national monuments at his own discretion. Since its inception, all but three Presidents have made use of the Act to protect the special qualities of our federal lands from potential harm. Most recently, President Clinton established or expanded more than 20 National Monuments, encompassing over 3.6 million acres. Many of the new monuments protect desert wild lands, wetlands, rivers, and wild forests that would otherwise be destroyed by energy, mining, and timber interests. The Act has played a pivotal role in the protection of the Grand Canyon, Grand Tetons, Death Valley, Zion and Denali.
Despite the clear benefit of the Act to public lands, and legal decisions of the Supreme Court and others to uphold it, Mountain States Legal Foundation and Tulare County, California challenged the authority of President Clinton, and all future presidents, to establish and protect National Monuments. The plaintiffs challenged the constitutionality of the Act and, in addition, argued that it is illegal to use the Antiquities Act to protect natural, rather than solely man-made, objects. The first challenge, brought by Mountain States Legal Foundation, which was founded by James Watt and formerly employed Secretary Gale Norton, and the Blue Ribbon Coalition, a group of off-road vehicle users and manufacturers, sought the undoing of six separate monuments: Canyon of the Ancients (Colo.), Cascade-Siskiyou (Ore.), Grand Canyon-Parashant (Ariz.), Hanford Reach (Wash.), Sonoran Desert (Ariz.) and Ironwood Forest (Ariz.). The second case challenged the legality of Giant Sequoia National Monument in California.
Earthjustice lawyers joined attorneys from Natural Resources Defense Council and several conservation groups to intervene in defense of the Act. Citing the Act's history in court, Earthjustice's Jim Angell said, "The courts have always upheld the Antiquities Act and will continue to do so in the future. Both Democratic and Republican administrations have used the Act to protect archeological resources, historic sites, and significant tracts of natural lands. Many lands protected as National Monuments eventually become incorporated into our national park system. President Clinton's National Monuments may someday be as revered as the Grand Canyon, originally protected by Theodore Roosevelt using the Antiquities Act in 1908."
The Supreme Court agreed with Earthjustice and declined to review either challenge to the Act. The refusal of the high court to hear the cases means that the lower court decisions upholding the Monuments stand, along with the right of future Presidents to use the Antiquities Act to protect natural treasures by declaring them National Monuments.