The Trump administration is defending former President Barack Obama’s 2016 action to protect underwater areas in the Atlantic Ocean.
In a filing in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia this week, the Justice Department said the federal court system has no authority to decide whether Obama acted lawfully when he created a massive underwater national monument off the coast of New England.
“This court cannot review how the President exercised the discretion that Congress granted him to designate and define national monuments in the Antiquities Act,” the attorneys wrote in a motion asking the court to dismiss the lawsuit.
“To the extent any review occurs, it must be limited to the question of whether the President’s designation of the monument, on its face, is authorized by the Antiquities Act. The Antiquities Act authorizes the president to declare ‘historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated on land owned or controlled by the federal government to be national monuments.’ … That is what [Obama’s proclamation] does,” they said.
“And that should end this court’s inquiry. Put simply, because the president lawfully exercised his authority under the Antiquities Act to create the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, Plaintiffs’ case should be dismissed.”
The defense of the Obama monument came despite outspoken criticism from Republicans, including Trump, of Obama’s use of the Antiquities Act.
“The previous administration used a 100-year-old law known as the Antiquities Act to unilaterally put millions of acres of land and water under strict federal control … eliminating the ability of the people who actually live in those states to decide how best to use that land,” Trump said in April 2017, when he signed an order directing the federal government to review Obama’s designations for potential changes.
“The Antiquities Act does not give the federal government unlimited power to lock up millions of acres of land and water, and it’s time we ended this abusive practice.”
Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, managed by the Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, protects a series of geological features at the edge of the continental shelf and just off of it. The areas host vulnerable species like corals, turtles and whales.
Obama’s proclamation closed the 5,000-square-mile area to commercial fishing, mining, bottom trawling and other activities.
A coalition of fishing associations, led by the Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association, sued the federal government. They claimed that the Antiquities Act doesn’t allow presidents to protect water bodies, and that even if it did, the designation broke the law because it was too big.
The case is being heard by Judge James Boasberg, who was nominated to the bench by former President George W. Bush.