Supreme Court bound? Utah files appeal after judge drops national monuments lawsuit

Utah is appealing a federal judge's decision Friday to dismiss the state's lawsuit over national monument designations.

Utah is appealing a federal judge's decision Friday to dismiss the state's lawsuit over national monument designations. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah did not waste any time filing its appeal to a federal judge's decision on Friday to dismiss the state's lawsuit over President Joe Biden's decision to reinstate the size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in southern Utah.

The state of Utah, as well as Garfield and Kane counties, who are plaintiffs in the case, formally filed an appeal Monday, seeking for the case to end up in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which may be a way station before it ends up in the U.S. Supreme Court.

"All along, the state of Utah has sought appropriate protections of the precious, unique area in the heart of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante regions, but the current monument designations are overkill, by millions of acres," Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said in a prepared statement Monday. "President Biden's designations exceed his authority. We eagerly anticipate explaining to the 10th Circuit why the law and the facts are on our side."

Utah leaders filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court last year, arguing that Biden's monument designations in 2021 were "an abuse of the president's authority under the Monuments and Antiquities Act." His order reversed an order issued by then-President Donald Trump in 2017, which trimmed the combined size of the monuments from close to 3.25 million acres to about 1.2 million acres.

However, U.S. District Judge David Nuffer ruled Friday that the court didn't have jurisdiction in the case and sided with a petition by the U.S. government and four tribal nations to dismiss the case.

In his ruling, Nuffer wrote that Congress authorized a U.S. president to establish a monument "confined to the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected." He added that past Supreme Court rulings have reaffirmed that Congress can authorize "a public officer to take some specified legislative action when in his judgment that action is necessary or appropriate to carry out the policy of Congress."

Utah leaders immediately said they would appeal after the ruling was handed down. Utah Gov. Spencer Cox said he believes the case will end up in the Supreme Court and the ruling helps Utah get there "sooner."

"Monument designations over a million acres are clearly outside that authority and end up ignoring local concerns and damaging the very resources we want to protect," he said last week. "We look forward to starting the appeals process immediately and will continue fighting this type of glaring misuse of the Antiquities Act."

Various conservation groups, including some that joined on as intervenor defendants in the case, celebrated the ruling. One of those, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, called it "very good news" even with the understanding that Utah would appeal.

In a statement after the ruling, SUWA legal director Steve Bloch said Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments are "two of the most significant, intact and extraordinary public landscapes in America," and added that the decision aligned with "more than 100 years of similar court rulings that have rejected every challenge to presidential authority under the Antiquities Act to protect cultural, scientific, ecological and paleontological resources on public lands."

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Bears Ears National MonumentOutdoorsPoliticsUtahSouthern UtahEnvironment
Carter Williams is a reporter who covers general news, local government, outdoors, history and sports for


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