Federal Judge Orders Removal of Trump’s Public Lands Chief

September 28, 2020 Updated: September 28, 2020

A federal judge in Montana ruled that a top Trump administration official has been illegally exercising authority because he hasn’t been confirmed by the Senate.

William Pendley has been the Bureau of Land Management’s deputy director for policy and programs since July 2019, but he’s been “exercising the authority of the director,” according to the Department of Interior.

Pendley isn’t able to serve in that position any longer, Judge Brian Morris of the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana, an Obama nominee, ruled on Sept. 25.

Morris determined that President Donald Trump was effectively evading stipulations in the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998 that outline how temporary appointments work by keeping Pendley in position for so long.

“The President cannot shelter unconstitutional ‘temporary’ appointments for the duration of his presidency through a matryoshka doll of delegated authorities,” Morris wrote in a 34-page ruling.

Pendley was empowered to be acting Bureau of Land Management (BLM) director through a series of amendments that delegated all functions, duties, and responsibilities of the head of the agency to him, according to the judge. The amendments stated that Pendley wasn’t to perform functions or duties required by law to be carried out by a Senate-confirmed official.

Pendley served as acting director from July 29, 2019, to June 5.

The amendments and a subsequent memo “both represent unlawful attempts to avoid the constitutional requirements” of the reform act, Morris said.

Epoch Times Photo
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock speaks at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, Iowa, on Aug. 8, 2019. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

The White House didn’t immediately respond to a request by The Epoch Times for comment. A spokesman for the Interior Department told news outlets that the agency would appeal the ruling, calling it “an outrageous decision that is well outside the bounds of the law.”

Trump nominated Pendley over the summer to be vetted by the Senate for the director of BLM position, but the nomination was later withdrawn after strong pushback by Democrats.

The White House at the time of the nomination said Pendley “has worked to increase recreational opportunities on and access to our Nation’s public lands, heighten concern for the impact of wild horses and burros on public lands, and increase awareness of the Bureau’s multiple-use mission.”

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt had said Pendley was “doing a great job, including acquiring more than 25,000 acres of public land for expanded recreational access.”

Following the withdrawal, Democrats urged Bernhardt to remove Pendley from his position.

Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, praised the judge’s ruling, saying Pendley “has no business—and no authority—leading the Bureau of Land Management, and Secretary Bernhardt should have known better.”

Any decision Pendley made in his capacity as acting director must be subject to legal scrutiny, Udall said.

Vice Chair of the House Natural Resources Committee Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) said the ruling “confirms what we have been saying for months, and I will be following carefully to ensure the decisions Pendley made while he was unlawfully the head of the Bureau are effectively reversed, and that our country gets a Director of the Bureau of Land Management will [sic] take their duty to protect our public lands for everyone.”

The lawsuit that led to the ruling was filed by Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat who is running for the U.S. Senate after a failed presidential run.

“Today’s ruling is a win for the Constitution, the rule of law, and our public lands,” Bullock said in a social media statement. “Montanans can rest easy knowing that National Public Lands Day will begin with William Perry Pendley packing his desk and vacating the Director’s Office.”

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