Tribes File for Summary Judgment in Bears Ears Case



Pictographs at Bears Ears. Photo credit: Jonathan Bailey.

On Thursday, January 9, 2020, the tribal plaintiffs in the lawsuit to protect the Bears Ears National Monument filed a motion for partial summary judgment. The motion asks the judge to rule that President Trump’s attempt to reduce Bears Ears is beyond the president’s authority. Quite simply, the president is not authorized to revoke a national monument once it has been established.

In the motion, NARF Staff Attorney Natalie Landreth spells out the problem, “In an act untethered to principle or caselaw, President Trump did what no other President has done: revoked a national monument and replaced it with two small units comprising less than 15 percent of the original size of the Monument. In so doing, he acted well beyond the law and well beyond the Constitutional limits of his power.”

The motion for summary judgment clearly lays out the issue at hand:

For the first time in history, five federally recognized Tribes banded together to advocate for a national monument to protect, for all Americans and for all time, a place so wondrous it had drawn people to it for more than 13,000 years. Rich in ancient and modern Native culture, and literally part of the homeland and history of the five Tribes in this case, it is known as Bears Ears National Monument. To the Tribes, it is a living and vital place where ancestors passed from one world to the next, often leaving their mark in petroglyphs or painted handprints, and where modern day tribal members can still visit them. The Tribes worked for years to gather evidence and make a case for the protection of this landscape teeming with historical objects and sites. Recognizing that Bears Ears was exactly the kind of place for which the Antiquities Act was created, President Obama designated the Monument on December 28, 2016.

Less than a year later, in an effort to free up lands for uranium mining and other extractive industries, President Trump purported to revoke the Monument and replace it with two smaller, non-contiguous monuments. A stunning abuse of the Antiquities Act by any measure, the Trump Proclamation removed 85 percent of the original monument lands from protection, and removed 100 percent of protection from tens of thousands (and likely more) of cultural objects in the excised lands. The Antiquities Act – a law created specifically to protect historical objects and places –was used instead to remove protection from irreplaceable historical objects and places.

The issue here is simple: whether the President had the authority to do what he did. He clearly did not. Neither the plain text of the Antiquities Act, nor its legislative history can be reasonably construed to allow the President to do what he purported to do here. To the contrary, in revoking the original Bears Ears Monument and replacing it with two remnants, President Trump usurped power reserved only to Congress – a power that Congress has repeatedly reaffirmed and claimed for itself. This is a pure issue of law.

With this motion, the tribal plaintiffs simply ask the judge to acknowledge these facts and rule in favor of the first, second, and third claims in the tribal plaintiff’s amended complaint.


Button: Protect Bears Ears Read more about NARF’s work to protect Bears Ears National Monument. NARF continues to fight for the Native nations who have spent years working to protect their sacred, ancestral lands and the millions of people who declared their support for our national monuments. We will not allow the rights of our Native nations and our local people to be willfully pushed to the side for the benefit of corporate interests. We will stand firm for justice. Donate now to help protect Bears Ears National Monument.




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