March 22, 2018

In Northeast Canyons monument case, will President Trump follow the Secretary of Interior’s recommendation to lift illegal fishing prohibitions or will he defend his predecessor’s Antiquities Act abuse?

By Jonathan Wood Attorney

The wheels of justice grind slowly. And sometimes they come to a complete halt.

That’s what happened over the past year to fishermen challenging the illegal designation of a 5,000 square mile national monument in the Atlantic Ocean. The first anniversary of the filing of their case passed several weeks and they are still waiting on the government to respond. That’s finally about to change. Late last week, the district court ordered the government to finally say whether it would defend the monument.

The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument is one of the clearest cases of Antiquities Act abuse. That statute authorizes the President to unilaterally declare and protect national monuments but limits that power to “land owned or controlled by the Federal Government.” To state the obvious, the ocean is water, not land. Additionally, the monument is 130 miles from our coast, so even ignoring that this isn’t land, the area isn’t owned or controlled by the Federal Government either.

Three months ago, Secretary Zinke recommended to the President that the monument’s fishing restrictions be revoked, in addition to changes to 9 other monuments. Yet the President has not acted on these recommendations for any monuments other than Bears Ears and Grand Staircase. (PLF has moved to intervene in the lawsuit challenging the President’s Bears Ears decision to defend the President’s power to modify existing national monuments. For more on that legal issue, see these law review articles by me and my colleague Todd Gaziano, this article in the Washington Post, or this outline of the issue.)

Thanks to the Court’s order requiring the government to respond to our lawsuit, we will finally learn whether President Trump will follow Secretary Zinke’s recommendations or defend his predecessors Antiquities Act abuse.

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