The DC Circuit Court of Appeals has dismissed a lawsuit challenging President Clinton's application of the Antiquities Act of 1906 and reaffirmed the presidential power to establish national monuments to protect public lands with significant natural values.
Earthjustice attorney Jim Angell, representing a coalition of environmental and historical preservation groups, intervened in the case to defend the monuments.
The Mountain States Legal Foundation (where Interior Secretary Gale Norton formerly served as lead attorney) on behalf of itself and an off-road vehicle lobby, the Blue Ribbon Coalition, had 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. In a separate ruling, the court of appeals upheld the validity of the Giant Sequoia National Monument in California today.
Noting a history of unsuccessful attacks on the Antiquities Act, Jim Angell said, "Americans won one today over forces that prefer to see every acre developed regardless of its natural values."
"This is a glorious victory worthy of this magnificent monument," said Michael R. Sherwood, staff attorney for Earthjustice's Oakland office who represented environmental organizations in the Giant Sequoia National Monument case. "The decision so thoroughly and convincingly rejects every one of the challenges to the Monument that it not only preserves this wonderful new national monument for the enjoyment of generations to come, but also preserves the right of future presidents to act to save environmentally, scenically, and historically important lands from the ravages of commercial timber harvest, mining, road building, and other destructive actions."
Mountain States challenged the authority of President Clinton, and all future presidents, to establish and protect national monuments when it first filed a lawsuit at the district court level. It claimed the Constitution gives such power only to the Congress. The plaintiffs also claimed a president may create national monuments in order to protect only man-made objects. Earthjustice argued that these claims have been rejected by the court in the past and therefore warranted dismissal. The district court agreed. Mountain States appealed to the Circuit Court of Appeals for the DC circuit, from which today's announcement comes.
"This is a great day for America's natural heritage. This is as if our national monuments just won the World Series," said Leslie Jones, attorney for The Wilderness Society.
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.
Earthjustice mounted its defense on behalf of The Wilderness Society, Natural Resources Defense Council, Soda Mountains Wilderness Council, Sierra Club, National Wildlife Federation, National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Society for American Archaeology, and Defenders of Wildlife.