In a DC District courtroom Wednesday, Judge Paul Friedman 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, presented oral arguments for dismissal of a lawsuit by “wise-use” groups. Citing the clear language of the act, and its historic application, Judge Friedman found the suit lacking merit and dismissed it in a ruling from the bench. The ruling may be appealed.
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.
The Mountain States suit challenged the authority of President Clinton, and all future presidents, to establish and protect National Monuments. 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 both been rejected by the court in the past and therefore warranted dismissal. The court agreed.
Noting a history of unsuccessful attacks on the Antiquities Act attorney Jim Angell of Earthjustice 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 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. . . .”
President Clinton established or expanded more than 20 national monuments before the end of his presidency. Encompassing more than 3.6 million acres, these actions reserve more land in the Lower 48 than have those of any previous administration. Many of the new monuments protect desert wild lands, wetlands, rivers, and wild forests that would otherwise suffer destruction at the hands of oil, mining, and timber interests.
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 filed the motion 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.