Utah AG's Office picks national law firm to assist in potential monuments lawsuit

Gary Torres, Bureau of Land Manager district manager for southeast Utah, left, and Department of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland hike to the Butler Wash Ruins in Bears Ears National Monument on April 8. Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said he selected an outside law firm to aid the state in a possible lawsuit over the Biden Administration's decision to retore the size of the monument.

Gary Torres, Bureau of Land Manager district manager for southeast Utah, left, and Department of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland hike to the Butler Wash Ruins in Bears Ears National Monument on April 8. Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said he selected an outside law firm to aid the state in a possible lawsuit over the Biden Administration's decision to retore the size of the monument. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)



Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes has brought in a national law firm with ties to Utah to assist the state in a possible lawsuit against a decision in October by President Joe Biden to restore the original boundaries of two national monuments in Utah.

The Attorney General's Office on Friday selected a bid from Consovoy McCarthy PLLC to assist in the state's legal efforts, according to a document posted by the office. The office began seeking proposals from law firms on Oct. 22; in the document, officials wrote that Consovoy McCarthy provides "the best value" for the state, which is why it was selected over three other vendors.

"Two months ago, President Biden ignored the views of Utah's state and local leaders and unilaterally expanded the boundaries of both the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments," Reyes, said in a statement Saturday.

"As Utahns know better than anyone, these magnificent lands deserve appropriate long-term protections," the statement continued. "Unfortunately, President Biden has undermined that goal. His actions create more uncertainty and prolong the political tug-of-war over Utah's public lands. As we evaluate our options to address this federal overreach, the law firm of Consovoy McCarthy PLLC has been retained to assist with research and analysis about potential litigation."

Biden officially restored the sizes of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments on Oct. 8. They are about 3.25 million acres in size combined. President Donald Trump had previously split the monuments into smaller monuments about a third of the original cumulative size during a ceremony at the Utah Capitol four years ago Saturday.

Reyes said his office is looking to see if Biden violated the Antiquities Act in restoring the sizes of the boundaries and felt that there was a large enough case that it hired Consovoy McCarthy PLLC to assist.

"We have done so because recent opinions from members of the U.S. Supreme Court strongly indicate that President Biden's use of the Antiquities Act is the wrong way to protect such vast areas of southern Utah," his statement continued. "We continue to urge Congress to work with the State, with local governments, and with Tribal nations on a long-term legislative solution for the conservation of these lands that would end the existing uncertainty and avoid a potentially acrimonious legal challenge."

The documents did not indicate the terms of the agreement but noted the law firm's blended hourly rate was $498, about $173 per hour below the average of the other three firms that submitted proposals.

The decision to hire in the firm came a day after a group of a little over 100 activists and tribal leaders in favor of the recent restoration participated in a rally calling for Reyes, Gov. Spencer Cox and other Utah leaders to not pursue a lawsuit. They argued that previous lawsuits haven't worked and that a legal challenge would cost state taxpayers millions of dollars, especially if the case drags on in the court system.

"A lawsuit challenging the restoration of Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is a horrendous misuse of state tax dollars," said Olivia Juarez, the Latinx community organizer for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, during the rally Thursday.

Tribal leaders added during the event that money spent fighting the restoration of the monuments could be used for other purposes, such as providing water and electricity for Native residents by the monuments in southeastern Utah.

"I think it's very clear that the people of the United States, the people of Utah, the people of tribal nations want these areas protected for other people to enjoy," Hopi Tribe Chairman Timothy Nuvangyaoma added.

Utah has yet to file a legal challenge over the decision. The attorney general's office did not provide a timeline Saturday for when the state would make a decision to file a challenge in the courts.

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