The Mountain States Legal Foundation, on behalf of itself and a "wise-use" group, the Blue Ribbon Coalition, filed the lawsuit in an effort to invalidate President Clinton's creation of the Canyon of the Ancients (Colo.), Cascade-Siskiyou (Ore.), Grand Canyon-Parashant (Ariz.), Hanford Reach (Wash.), Sonoran Desert (Ariz.), and Ironwood Forest (Ariz.) National Monuments. Their suit challenges the authority of President Clinton, and all future presidents, to establish and protect National Monuments. This authority is granted to all presidents under the 1906 Antiquities Act. They say the Constitution gives such power only to the Congress.
Earthjustice attorney Jim Angell noted an ominous development in a parallel motion to dismiss filed by the government. "The government lays out a position in their brief that not only does the White House have the power to create monuments but that they also have the unfettered discretion to modify them in any way they see fit, anytime they see fit. The Bush administration appears to be laying the groundwork for a future modification of the monuments President Clinton established."
The Wilderness Society's Pam Eaton also noticed storm clouds, "The government's new position in this case -- arguing that Presidential action to create monuments or modify their boundaries is not reviewable by the courts -- appears self-serving. It is less about protecting these national treasures and more about protecting the administration's ability to unilaterally undo them."
The Antiquities Act simply states "that the President of the United States is hereby authorized, in his discretion, to declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States to be national monuments. . . ." Because of the clear language of the Act, Earthjustice and its clients are asking the judge to dismiss Mountain States' suit and to reaffirm the authority of President Clinton and all future presidents to establish and protect national monuments under the Antiquities Act.
"This important authority has been used by Democratic and Republican administrations alike to protect archaeological resources, historic sites, and significant tracts of natural lands," said Richard Moe, President of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. "The Antiquities Act is one of the most effective tools to preserve these important places for the benefit of all Americans," he continued.
Keith Kintigh, president of the Society for American Archaeology pointed out one of the key reasons the Antiquities Act has proved so valuable. "For nearly a century, the Antiquities Act has played an invaluable role in protecting important archaeological sites that illuminate otherwise inaccessible aspects of our nation's rich and diverse heritage. Without that protection, many of these sites, and the information they have to offer would be forever lost."
The Antiquities Act has played a pivotal role in the protection of many unique American treasures, including the Grand Tetons, Death Valley, the Grand Canyon, Zion, and Denali. Protecting the natural jewels of the United States has been a bipartisan undertaking. Indeed, since 1906 all but three Presidents have made use of the Antiquities Act to protect the special qualities of our federal lands from potential harm.