Environmental Protection

Hopi Tribe v. Trump; Wilderness Society v. Trump

In Hopi Tribe v. Trump and Wilderness Society v. Trump, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia is considering whether President Trump has the authority to reduce the size of national monuments unilaterally, or whether Congress alone has that power.

Case Summary

In December 2017, President Trump issued proclamations that would dramatically reduce the size of two national monuments designated by earlier presidents: Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears, both located in southern Utah. The President’s efforts were soon challenged in court by numerous Indian Tribes and by nonprofit organizations representing conservation, historic preservation, scientific, and tribal interests. These plaintiffs contend that the Antiquities Act of 1906 gives presidents the authority to establish new national monuments but not to abolish or reduce the size of existing monuments. After these cases were consolidated, the Trump Administration filed motions to dismiss the cases in October 2018.

CAC filed an amici curiae brief in these cases on behalf of 118 members of Congress in support of the plaintiffs, arguing that the cases should proceed. Our brief explains that the Constitution gives Congress total control over federal lands and other property owned by the United States, and that any power exercised by the President in this area must therefore come from a delegation of Congress. The brief further explains why it made sense that Congress, in the Antiquities Act, gave presidents a unilateral power to establish new national monuments but not to diminish the size of existing monuments: Allowing presidents to establish national monuments preserves Congress’s institutional prerogatives—and promotes conservation—because it enables presidents to act quickly to prevent irreparable damage to treasured American landmarks. By delegating this power to the President, Congress helped ensure that cherished places and objects would not be destroyed before Congress could decide their fate. By contrast, the decision to reduce the size of an existing monument lacks any such urgency, and so it was sensible for Congress to reserve that decision to the more deliberatively legislative process.

Our brief also explains that while some presidents in the twentieth century adjusted the boundaries of national monuments without the authority to do so, those isolated incidents did not change the meaning of the Antiquities Act, and could not do so, because presidents cannot change the meaning of a law by repeatedly violating it.

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