WASHINGTON — A federal judge on Thursday upheld President Clinton’s creation of six national monuments in Arizona, Colorado, Oregon and Washington, ruling they were valid exercises of a 95-year-old law.
The Mountain States Legal Defense Fund had challenged the constitutionality of the Antiquities Act and said Clinton overstepped his authority under the act.
The Denver-based conservative organization had asked U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman to invalidate Clinton’s creation of the Cascades-Siskiyou National Monument in Oregon, the Hanford Reach in Washington, the Canyons of the Ancients in Colorado and the Grand Canyon-Parashant, Ironwood Forest and Sonoran Desert national monuments in Arizona.
But Friedman dismissed the suit after a brief hearing Thursday in Washington, D.C., finding that Clinton had appropriately used the power that Congress legally granted.
"The courts have always upheld the Antiquities Act and will continue to do so in the future," said Jim Angell, an attorney for Earthjustice, a legal organization based in Denver that frequently represents environmental groups.
William Perry Pendley, president and chief legal officer for the Mountain States Legal Foundation, said Friedman deferred too much to the president’s judgment.
"We’re talking about millions of acres of land that, with a stroke of a pen, the president set aside," he said. "We believe the court needs to go further and say, ‘Wait a second. Are these areas truly scientific? Are they historic? Is this the smallest area necessary to protect the resource?"
Pendley said he would appeal, pairing it with another monument challenge that was dismissed in late September.
Another lawsuit, challenging Clinton’s creation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument southern Utah in 1996, is pending in federal court in Utah.
Clinton used the Antiquities Act to create 19 monuments and expand three others, protecting 5.9 million acres. State and local officials, ranchers, off-road vehicle users, oil and gas companies and others complained that Clinton abused his authority and locked up too much land.
Congress passed the act in 1906 to give the president the power to protect land threatened by development. President Theodore Roosevelt was the first to use it, establishing Devil’s Tower in Wyoming as a national monument.
Presidents have used the act to establish about 120 monuments covering more than 70 million acres.
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