While critics found it galling that the outgoing president was able to place 2 million acres of federal lands off limits to development with the stroke of a pen, they were unable to overturn his actions in their previous foray into federal court.
Last month, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington upheld Clinton's proclamations under the 1906 Antiquities Act.
But the Mountain States Legal Foundation asked the full court to take another look at the ruling, which the plaintiffs complained was steeped in legal technicalities and not reflective of the law's requirements.
"The panel's decision ignores the facts and returns jurisprudence to the days when judges wore wigs and waistcoats," complained William Perry Pendley, the head of the Denver foundation. "Under its own and the Supreme Court's decisions, it may not dismiss this case."
The plaintiffs argued that Clinton's proclamations overstepped the bounds of the Antiquities Act, enacted during President Theodore Roosevelt's administration at the urging of famed naturalist John Muir. They argued that the act restricts the president to preserving only areas of clear scientific or historical interest, and that preserving other areas constituted formation of a national park, which was a matter for Congress to decide.
The court's panel, however, decided on Oct. 18 that the Mountain States Legal Foundation did not present any evidence that a review of Clinton's actions was warranted and they upheld a lower court's dismissal of the lawsuit.
"Each proclamation identifies particular objects or sites of historic or scientific interest and recites grounds for the designation that comport with the Act's policies and requirements," the court said in its ruling.
At issue was the formation of six national monuments: Hanford Reach in Washington; the Cascade-Siskiyou in Oregon; Canyons of the Ancients in Colorado; the Ironwood Forest; Sonora Desert and Grand Canyon-Parashant, all three of which are in Arizona.
A group of House members from the West introduced a bill last year that would have restricted presidential power to designate monuments by requiring congressional review of any proclamations involving more than 50,000 acres. Environmentalists opposed the idea, stating that the Antiquities Act had worked well for more than 90 years and should not be subject to legislative tinkering.
In a related case, a California organization that includes timber industry interests and Tulare County officials will seek a full hearing in the same court on their challenge to Clinton's designation in April 2000 of the 327,000-acre Giant Sequoia National Monument.
The controversial proclamation was blamed for a downturn in the region's lumber industry. But the legal challenge was turned down on the same grounds as the Mountain States Legal Foundation challenge.
Gary Stevens, who represents the Californians, told the Fresno Bee that the monument should only be large enough to adequately protect the area's sequoia trees.
"Ultimately," he lamented, "they want the monument to shrink down to the size of the sequoia groves."
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