President Joe Biden's decision to reverse the reduction of national monuments by former President Donald Trump was upheld by a U.S. judge on Aug. 11.
President Biden's decision to enlarge the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments is not reviewable because plaintiffs did not obtain the necessary paperwork, U.S. District Judge David Nuffer, appointed under President Barack Obama, said in a 28-page ruling.
"President Biden’s judgment in drafting and issuing the Proclamations as he sees fit is not an action reviewable by a district court," Judge Nuffer said.
The Antiquities Act states that a president may "declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated on land owned or controlled by the Federal Government to be national monuments." The president may also "reserve parcels of land as a part of the national monuments," the law says, and the parcels "shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected."
Presidents Bill Clinton and Obama respectively established the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Bears Ears National Monument. The first consisted of 1.7 million acres. The second consisted of 1.3 million acres.
President Trump cut the size of the monuments to 1 million acres and 201,876 acres, respectively, after a request from Republican leaders in Utah. President Biden reversed the reduction in 2021 after succeeding President Trump. The move actually added additional acres to each monument.
Utah officials filed the lawsuit in 2022, alleging President Biden's move did not hew to the part of the law dictating that monuments must be confined to the smallest area possible.
Judge Nuffer said that President Biden's actions could be reviewed for constitutionality but that plaintiffs challenged them on statutory grounds. That means he cannot review the actions because the United States is protected against such lawsuits unless Congress grants a waiver.
The dismissal follows numerous other cases concerning presidents withdrawing land for monuments that have also been thrown out.
Native American tribes and other entities that had sided with President Biden cheered the ruling.
"Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments are prized by the American people and many tribes for whom the lands are sacred," Scott Miller, the regional director of The Wilderness Society, said in a statement. "The court’s order dismissing Utah’s lawsuit is a win for these spectacular public lands, for the preservation of tribal cultures and resources, for the economies of local communities and for the rule of law."
“For more than a century, the Antiquities Act has given the president the authority to establish national monuments—today’s ruling confirmed that authority,” Carly Ferro, a Sierra Club director, added.
Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, a Republican, said the state will appeal the ruling "in order to stand up against President Biden’s egregious abuse of the Antiquities Act."
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, also a Republican, said he expects the case will make it to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“The clear language of the law gives the president the authority only to designate monuments that are ‘the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected.’ Monument designations over a million acres are clearly outside that authority and end up ignoring local concerns and damaging the very resources we want to protect," Mr. Cox said. "We look forward to starting the appeals process immediately and will continue fighting this type of glaring misuse of the Antiquities Act."