Citizens sue President over National Monument

Published April 1, 2000

Seven Arizona state lawmakers have joined 16 citizens to sue President Clinton and Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt over the Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument recently created by the Clinton-Gore administration in Arizona under the Antiquities Act of 1906.

The suit, filed January 26 in U.S. District Court in Arizona, alleges the Antiquities Act is unconstitutional because it denies citizens and lawmakers their rights to representation and accountability under the Constitution. The plaintiffs are asking the court to grant an injunction to prevent the designation of the monument.

In January, President Clinton created three new National Monuments, two in Arizona and one in California. Before he did so, Congressional Republicans sent President Clinton a letter objecting to the action and calling on him to allow legislative processes already underway to go forward. Several bills designed to protect the areas were pending before Congress. The measures would allow for hunting and grazing privileges and protect water and property rights. Rep. Bob Stump (R-Arizona) noted, “The Administration’s decision to usurp a public legislative process suggests that they had predetermined an outcome which could only be enacted by executive fiat.”

The lawsuit contends that Congress was granted, by the Framers of the Constitution, exclusive “power to form states, dispose of land in territorial status, and administer the land until states were created. Territorial lands include all federal public domain land and lands which were reserved by Executive action such as national forests, national monuments, and Indian reservations.” The suit further asserts that Congress cannot delegate its authority over public land to the Executive branch–which it did by passing the Antiquities Act, rendering that Act unconstitutional.

The plaintiffs also argue that, under the Constitution, Congress is to retain legislative jurisdiction over federal lands “with state consent” and “primary jurisdiction over [it] is state law.”

Some of the citizens filing suit are residents of Utah but live part of the year in Arizona in the area covered by the National Monument. It is their contention that the monument designation limits their land use, water rights, and existing state and federal grazing leases. They contend they “will suffer irreparable harm, both financial and against their constitutional rights to equal protection of the law.”

The seven Arizona lawmakers contend the President’s action usurps their “duties as assigned by the Constitutions of the United States and of the State of Arizona. Their ability to represent their constituents is being impaired by depriving the citizens of Arizona through their elected representatives the right to approve or disapprove the monument designation. They bring this action, not only for themselves, but on behalf of the citizens they represent.” The lawmakers go on to say the action assumes they will “cede sovereignty over a million acres to the United States . . . without any right existing in the state to even question the constitutionality of the Antiquities Act in a federal court.”

The lawsuit also challenges the Antiquities Act under the Fourteenth Amendment, which provides that citizens of the U.S. are also citizens of an individual state and are entitled to “separate federal and state processes.”

This provision, they contend, is violated by the Antiquities Act, under which the President selects the federal department to administer the designated monument, in this case the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The BLM will “determine which if any property right acquired under state law . . . will be acknowledged as valid existing rights.” Citizens who wish to appeal have only administrative recourse through the BLM. “All state processes are automatically terminated by the proclamation declaring the monument. All persons with interests in Arizona lose permanently the right to vote to effect through republican government the administration of the land included in the monument boundaries,” the case continues.

The resolution of this case is expected to have far-reaching consequences. on other National Monuments or areas set aside under the Antiquities Act. More than 100 monuments in 24 states and the Virgin Islands encompass some 70 million acres, about 10 percent of all federal lands.

For more information

challenging the use of the Antiquities Act for the designation of National Monuments, see “Behind Closed Doors: The Abuse of Trust And Discretion In The Establishment Of The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument,” a report issued November 7, 1997 by the House majority staff for the Subcommittee on National Parks & Public Lands of the House Committee on Resources.