Former President Barack Obama lacked congressional support for much of his agenda beginning in 2011, but he didn't let that stand in his way. He leaned heavily on the power of the executive order, putting it to use in many and various causes.
One of these was his unilateral declaration that millions of acres (mostly out west) are now national monuments and parks. Everyone knew this was a political move, designed to thwart gas and oil drilling. Obama wielded his pen powerfully and got what he wanted without congressional approval.
Like it or not, Obama had every right to do this. It was granted to him by the Antiquities Act of 1906. That act grants U.S. presidents the authority to unilaterally declare something a monument, but it does not grant them the right to revoke a monument.
President Trump is threatening to revoke as much of what President Obama did as possible with an executive order of his own. Unfortunately, he simply doesn't have the authority to undo this.
The Antiquities Act is the law. If Congress doesn't like Obama or Trump abusing the nation with their powerful pen and unending executive orders, then they should grow a backbone and rewrite this outdated law. They can't punt this anymore to the executive branch.
Prior to the Antiquities Act, specific areas had been set aside as national parks, such as Yellowstone National Park in 1872 and Casa Grande Ruin in 1892. Each of these parks required an act of Congress, as well as presidential approval to create them.
But Section 2 of the Antiquities Act gave the power to the executive branch allowing a president to simply decree a place a park or monument. There is no language granting presidents the power to undo such a decree, leading to the current situation.
In April 2017, President Trump signed an executive order that "reviews enforcement of the law that gives him power to designate lands as national monuments." In other words, Trump wants to roll back public lands protections from several previous presidents.
Senator Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, is leading the charge -- no surprise, since Utah has been one of the states most assaulted by what can be described as a land grab by the federal government.
Hatch and other western lawmakers have complained that "Obama overused the law to over-protect land." Hatch said in response to Trump's forthcoming order that he is "committed to rolling back the egregious abuse of the Antiquities Act to serve far-left special interests." In particular, he is steamed by the designation of 1.3 million acres in 2016 as the Bears Ears National Monument. The area includes world-class rock climbing, age-old cliff dwellings and land sacred to Pueblo Indians.
If Senator Hatch wants to undo what President Obama legally did, he should draw up legislation to that effect. He should seek to take the power of the pen away from this and every subsequent president by requiring new monument designations to be passed by the full congress before being declared a monument or park. Likewise, getting rid of a national monument should require congressional approval as well.
If Senator Hatch and other congressional leaders don't like what President Obama did, they shouldn't be enlisting President Trump to abuse executive power in a way that pushes the limits of the law even further than Obama did. They should be changing the law.
Until they do, the president of the day will keep wielding his powerful pen until that power is put in check by Congress. Now would be a marvelous time to do it.
Steve Sherman is an author, popular radio commentator, former Iowa House candidate, and graduate of the University of Iowa. His articles have appeared nationally and he is author of a novel, Mercy Shot.
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