Supreme Court Upholds Clinton's National Monuments

WASHINGTON, DC, October 6, 2003 (ENS) - The U.S. Supreme Court today turned down an appeal by a county government and multiple use groups suing to strip protection from seven national monuments. The high court let stand an appeals court ruling that found the creation of the monuments by President Bill Clinton was a legal use of the Antiquities Act. The court, as usual, gave no reason for its decision.

The original lawsuit challenging six of the monuments was filed by the Mountain States Legal Foundation, a nonprofit legal center based in Denver, Colorado. As described in court documents, the foundation is dedicated to ensuring that federal lands remain open for "multiple use" as provided by federal law.

The foundation's founding president was James Watt, who served as Interior Secretary under President Ronald Reagan. It is now headed by William Perry Pendley, who worked under Watt in the Reagan administration.

Also party to the suit is the Blue Ribbon Coalition, a nonprofit group based in Idaho. The coalition, comprised of more than 550 businesses and organizations, with a total of about 600,000 members nationwide, works to ensure that public lands remain open to motorized and non-motorized means of access, such as off-road vehicles, horses and mountain bikes.

Adena Cook, the Blue Ribbon Coalition's public lands director, said that the purpose of the lawsuit is to do away with the "top down mandate" of the Antiquities Act.

Ironwood

Ironwood National Monument, Arizona (Photo courtesy BLM)
Enacted by Congress in 1906, the Antiquities Act gives the President of the United States the power to confer National Monument protective status on federal areas with historical, scenic or scientific values. Presidents from both the Democratic and Republican political parties have used the Act to protect millions of acres of public lands.

The monuments at issue are the Canyon of the Ancients in Colorado, the Cascade-Siskiyou in Oregon, Hanford Reach in southcentral Washington, National Monuments and Giant Sequoia National Monument in California, as well as Ironwood Forest, the Sonoran Cesert and the Grand Canyon-Parashant in Arizona.

Attacks on the monuments came in two related court cases. The first, brought by Tulare County, California, challenged the creation of the Giant Sequoia National Monument, and the second challenged the other six monuments.

Earthjustice attorney Michael Sherwood, together with attorneys from the Natural Resources Defense Council, defended the Sequoia National Monument.

"The baseless litigation by opponents of Giant Sequoia National Monument is finally over, and the courts have recognized the legitimacy of this and the other national monuments established by President Clinton," said Sherwood, who helped argue the Giant Sequoia Monument case.

Earthjustice attorney Jim Angell intervened to defend the other six monuments. All of the monuments contain spectacular natural and archaeological features deserving of protection for current and future generations. The Giant Sequoia National Monument contains giant sequoia redwood trees, the largest plants in the world found nowhere else on Earth.

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Sequoia trees (Photo courtesy National Park Service)
Pendley of Mountain States Legal Foundation said the high court's decision does not put an end to the issue. “We are disappointed that the Supreme Court did not take the opportunity to instruct the court of appeals that the proper ruling in the event that a complaint is deficient is not dismissal but an opportunity for the filing of another complaint."

“However, the Court’s ruling gives no comfort to environmental groups that supported Clinton’s unilateral decrees," said Pendley. "Whether what Clinton did is unconstitutional and illegal will be decided on another day, perhaps even in a lawsuit filed with regard to these six monuments.”

Earthjustice attorneys, too, warned that the fight to protect the monuments is not over.

The Bush administration is working on management plans that permit logging, mining, and other destructive activities inside the monuments. "While the The Supreme Court's decision vindicates President Clinton's creation of the national monuments, but, said Angell, "this is not the end of the fight to protect these unique areas."

"Threats remain because the Bush administration appears poised to allow logging and rampant off-road vehicle use despite their destructive impacts on the very objects the monuments were created to protect," Angell said.

"The fight to prevent the Bush administration from adopting a management plan that allows continued logging and other destructive activities in the Giant Sequoia National Monument, the very activities that establishment of the monument was supposed to preclude, is just getting started."

Between its enactment and 1999, 14 U.S. Presidents have used the Antiquities Act to proclaim 105 national monuments. The only three Presidents who did not use the law were Reagan, Richard Nixon and George H.W. Bush.