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Federal judge throws out Utah's lawsuit over Bears Ears, Grand Staircase monuments

Posted at 2:20 PM, Aug 11, 2023

SALT LAKE CITY — A federal judge has thrown out the state of Utah's lawsuit challenging the president's power to designate the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments.

In a ruling handed down on Friday, U.S. District Court Judge David Nuffer rejected the state's claims, as well as those filed by the Blue Ribbon Coalition and individual plaintiffs.

"In spite of the sincere and deeply held view of the Plaintiffs, there is no relief for them in this action. It has long been held that where Congress has authorized a public officer to take some specified legislative action when in his judgment that action is necessary or appropriate to carry out the policy of Congress, the judgment of the officer as to the existence of the facts calling for that action is not subject to review," he wrote. "President Biden’s judgment in drafting and issuing the Proclamations as he sees fit is not an action reviewable by a district court."

On Utah's Capitol Hill, Republican political leaders expressed their displeasure with the decision.

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes' office disagreed with the decision.

"The Attorney General’s Office respectfully but strongly disagrees with the court’s order on the Monuments case today. We will appeal the dismissal in order to stand up against President Biden’s egregious abuse of the Antiquities Act," his office said in a statement.

But Governor Spencer Cox said in a statement to FOX 13 News that the case was likely to go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"This case will ultimately be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court and today’s ruling helps us get there even sooner. 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. We look forward to starting the appeals process immediately and will continue fighting this type of glaring misuse of the Antiquities Act," he wrote.

Environmental and tribal groups who intervened in the lawsuit were thrilled.

"Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments are two of the most significant, intact, and extraordinary public landscapes in America — landscapes that will remain protected after today’s dismissal of these lawsuits. We are thrilled with today’s decision, which aligns with more than 100 years of similar court rulings that have rejected every challenge to Presidential authority under the Antiquities Act to protect cultural, scientific, ecological, and paleontological resources on public lands," the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance said in a statement.

President Clinton created the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in 1996. President Obama created Bears Ears National Monument in 2016. President Trump shrunk the boundaries of both southern Utah monuments in 2018. President Biden reinstated the boundaries in 2021.

The state of Utah and Kane and Garfield counties were challenging the President's authority under the Antiquities Act.

Read the ruling here: