Litigation Update: Sagebrush Rebels and Western States Challenge Presidential Monument Designations

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Congress passed the Antiquities Act in 1906 to protect Native American archaeological sites from looters and vandalism, empowering the President to designate historic landmarks, structures, or objects of scientific interest as national monuments on federal land. However, it also imposed limitations, requiring such designations to cover only "the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected." Initially, Presidents designated monuments focused on safeguarding specific landmarks or structures.

Over time, modern Presidents have expanded their authority under the Antiquities Act, interpreting "objects" broadly to include ecosystems. President Obama notably expanded the Act's use, establishing 29 new national monuments. However, this expansion faced pushback, with President Trump reducing the size of certain monuments and lifting usage restrictions. President Biden's subsequent actions, such as expanding the Grand Staircase monument and reinstating fishing bans, further illustrate the contentious nature of presidential monument designations.

All these challenges present interesting questions of statutory interpretation, limits on presidential power, the authority of the judiciary to review Presidential action, and the scope and content of both the major questions doctrine and the nondelegation doctrine.

Please join Adam Griffin, Separation of Powers Attorney at Pacific Legal Foundation, for a litigation update on these exciting cases and the future of presidential power under the Antiquities Act.

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Adam F. Griffin, Separation of Powers Attorney, Pacific Legal Foundation


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As always, the Federalist Society takes no position on particular legal or public policy issues; all expressions of opinion are those of the speaker.