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Center for American Progress

RELEASE: CAP Seeks Information from DOJ on Efforts to Revise Longstanding Legal Opinion on National Monuments
Press Release

RELEASE: CAP Seeks Information from DOJ on Efforts to Revise Longstanding Legal Opinion on National Monuments

Washington, D.C. — The Center for American Progress will seek any and all documents related to the Trump administration’s suspected effort to take unprecedented and illegal action to rescind or alter protections for an existing national monument. The documents sought are communications between government officials at the U.S. Department of Justice and outside interests specifically outlining ways to reshape decades of legal precedent.

“We have reason to believe that the Department of Justice is the subject of pressure to revise a longstanding legal opinion related to the Antiquities Act,” said Kate Kelly, Public Lands Director at CAP. “The American public needs to know if there’s something going on behind closed doors to undermine our national parks, public lands, and waters.”

The investigation launches as U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke conducts a 120-day “review” of all national monuments. The sweeping executive order affects national monuments established after 1996, including places like Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in Maine and Bears Ears National Monument in Utah.

Signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt, the Antiquities Act has been used by 16 presidents—eight Republicans and eight Democrats—to protect places like the Grand Canyon, Acadia, and Muir Woods.

The act does not give the president authority to revoke or alter a national monument, and no president has ever tried to rescind one. Additionally, in 1938, the U.S. attorney general concluded in an official opinion that the president does not have the power to abolish national monument designations.

In March, John Yoo of the American Enterprise Institute and Todd Gaziano of the Pacific Legal Foundation issued a paper arguing that the 1938 opinion should be revisited. The paper is apparently being considered by the Department of Justice as justification for reversing the nearly 80-year-old legal opinion.

“To be clear, the author of the Bush torture memos is partnering with a Koch-funded legal group that has defended tobacco companies, to target our national parks and public lands,” added Kelly.  “The Antiquities Act has helped this nation protect our national heritage and any backdoor attacks on this bedrock conservation law deserve greater scrutiny.”

CAP is also filing a Freedom of Information Act request with the Department of Justice related to potential reviews of an opinion by the Attorney General in 2000 that the president has the authority to establish marine monuments.

The Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel, or OLC, exercises the attorney general’s authority under the Judiciary Act of 1789 to provide legal advice to the president and the agencies of the executive branch on matters of law that are important to the functioning of the federal government. The American people rely on OLC’s long history of providing this advice with professionalism and integrity from administration to administration without regard to political pressures of the moment.

Requests for information from the DOJ are available here and here.

For more information on this topic or to speak with an expert, contact Tom Caiazza at [email protected] or 202.481.7141.