On November 19, CRS filed amici curiae briefs supporting lawsuits against the Trump administration over its dramatic rollback of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in Utah. These briefs were filed in opposition to the administration’s motions to dismiss the cases.
CRS argues that the Antiquities Act, which provides presidents with specific authority to establish national monuments, in no way authorizes them to diminish or undo previously established monuments. Under that law—and the U.S. Constitution—such two-way authority rests only with Congress.
“We have always maintained that these national monument rollbacks are illegal. The Antiquities Act was enacted exclusively to protect America’s natural and cultural heritage, it in no way confers authority on the president to diminish or destroy it,” said CRS president David Jenkins.
In the early 1900s our nation faced a serious problem with the rampant looting and destruction of historic and scientifically important artifacts on public lands, much of which was done to turn a quick buck. Time after time, Congress failed to act quickly enough to preserve them.
With the Antiquities Act, Congress responded to that problem by specifically granting the president authority to protect these resources by designating national monuments. There was never any thought of giving presidents the authority to unprotect. Trump’s claim to the contrary is ludicrous.
It is also worth noting that the Antiquities Act, and its subsequent use to safeguard America’s national treasures, has a rich conservative heritage. It was passed by a Republican Congress and signed into law by Republican president Theodore Roosevelt. Sixteen Presidents (8 Republican and 8 Democrats) have since used its authority to create national monuments.
“The president’s efforts to rollback these national monuments not only erodes our nation’s natural and cultural heritage, they betray its conservative heritage as well,” Jenkins said.
He added, “As conservatives, we are compelled to defend the plain language meaning of our nation’s laws—and the U.S. Constitution. There is nothing conservative about ignoring the clear, unambiguous meaning of the Antiquities Act. By doing so, President Trump recklessly tramples all over constitutional separation of powers.”
The consequences of these illegal national monument rollbacks are significant. They erode the rule of law, threaten important natural and cultural resources, damage local economies, and undermine a multi-billion outdoor recreation economy.
President Reagan put our obligation with respect to assets like Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante in the proper perspective when he said:
“This is our patrimony. This is what we leave to our children. And our great moral responsibility is to leave it to them either as we found it or better than we found it.”