Litigation Continues Over Monument Restorations

Last year, several plaintiffs led by the State of Utah and the BlueRibbon Coalition (an off-road vehicle advocacy group) challenged President Biden’s restoration of Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments. SUWA and a coalition of conservation partners successfully intervened in these cases to defend the monuments. Four Tribal Nations have also intervened to defend Bears Ears National Monument.

The plaintiffs make many of the same tired arguments that federal courts have rejected for more than 100 years: they believe the monuments are “too big” and protect things they shouldn’t (like ecosystems and unique flora and fauna). In a new twist, the plaintiffs argue that the 1906 Antiquities Act—the statute by which Congress authorized presidents to establish national monuments—runs afoul of legal doctrines the current Supreme Court has established and embraced as a way to curb presidential power. Fortunately, the lawsuits had barely left the starting gate when a federal district court judge in Utah dismissed them outright. Undeterred, the state and other plaintiffs quickly appealed that decision to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The parties will file legal briefs over the coming months and we expect the court will hold oral argument this spring. In an interesting turn of events, several amicus (friend of the court) briefs have been filed on behalf of the plaintiffs, including one by a group of U.S. Senators, others by Arizona state legislators and a right-wing think tank. We also expect amicus briefs to be filed on behalf of the monuments by Grand Staircase-Escalante Partners, Utah Diné Bikéyah, the American Anthropological Association and others, all groups with a longstanding interest in protecting these places and their remarkable resources.

The good news is that the monuments remain in place, their unique and irreplaceable resources safe from things like hard rock mining and irresponsible motorized vehicle use while the Bureau of Land Management prepares new plans to guide their management for decades to come.

—Steve Bloch

The above first appeared in the Autumn/Winter 2023 issue of our Redrock Wilderness newsletter. Become a member to receive our print newsletter in your mailbox 3 times a year.