The Trump administration on Friday moved to transfer legal challenges to the president’s rollback of the Bears Ears national monument in Utah to a more friendly court.
The federal government filed a motion with the District Court for Washington D.C. to transfer the cases to the District Court of Utah.
A coalition of five Native American tribes, and environmental groups, have filed three lawsuits challenging President Trump’s shrinking of Bears Ears.
The potential switch of venues would allow the administration to avoid the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, if the cases made it that far, which has a left-leaning reputation.
In its official reasoning filed with the D.C. District Court, the Trump administration said it wants to switch the cases to the District Court of Utah because Bears Ears is more closely connected to that state, since it is located there.
“There is a strong local interest in having this lawsuit adjudicated there,” the federal government said in its motion. “Transfer is warranted because that strong local interest outweighs the District of Columbia’s tie to the claims and the plaintiff’s selection of this forum.”
Trump in December signed a proclamation shrinking Bears Ears, framing the decision as a sharp rebuke of former President Barack Obama's use of executive authority to set aside public land for protection.
The Trump administration and congressional Republicans say previous presidents abused their authority under the 1906 Antiquities Act to unilaterally declare national monuments, setting aside larger and larger swaths of public land, limiting development opportunities and stifling local control.
The Antiquities Act specifies that national monuments should cover "the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects.”
But supporters of the monuments note the Antiquities Act does not explicitly give authority to presidents to reduce the size of national monuments, although some have done so on a limited scale. The concept has not been tested in court.
Trump is reducing the 1.35 million acres of Bears Ears, established by Obama, to 201,876 acres. Under Trump’s plan, Bears Ears would be divided into two smaller monuments: Indian Creek National Monument and the Shash Jaa National Monument.
The Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, which is challenging Trump's move, urged Obama to designate Bears Ears as a monument.
The coalition consists of five tribes: Navajo, Hopi, Uintah and Ouray Ute, Ute Mountain Ute, and Zuni.
Obama created Bears Ears just before he left office, protecting a vast area of mesas and canyons in Utah's poorest county. It is an area in the southeastern part of the state that the tribes consider sacred and depend on for sustenance and cultural tradition. It has more than 100,000 Native American archeological and cultural sites, according to the coalition.