Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Western Values Project v. U.S. Department of Justice

United States District Court, District of Columbia

July 18, 2018

WESTERN VALUES PROJECT, Plaintiff,
v.
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          CHRISTOPHER R. COOPER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Signed into law by Theodore Roosevelt, the Antiquities Act of 1906 gives presidents the power to designate landmarks located on federal land as “national monuments.” Presidents in the years since have designated 129 national monuments-among them iconic destinations like the Statue of Liberty-covering over 800 million acres of federal land. See Antiquities Act: Monuments List, Nat'l Park Serv., https://perma.cc/5GJR-UK2J (last visited July 18, 2018).

         Early into his tenure, President Trump made clear that he believed some of his recent predecessors had overreached their statutory authority to make designations. He ordered his Interior Department to review all monuments established after 1996 and has since dramatically reduced the size of two such monuments. The plaintiff in this case, Western Values Project, is a conservation group that wants to know more about the President's conception of his power to shrink and abolish national monuments. The group filed two requests under the Freedom of Information Act seeking records from the Department of Justice. The requests sought records about the Department's prior legal opinions regarding the scope of that power-specifically, whether there had been any efforts to revisit, revoke, or amend those opinions in the first year of Trump's presidency. As to the bulk of Western Values' request, the Department issued a “Glomar response”-it refused to confirm or deny the existence of any records. As to the remaining portion, the Department informed Western Values that it had found no responsive records.

         On the parties' motions for summary judgment, the Court concludes that the Department was not permitted to issue a Glomar response, but that its search as to the final portion of Western Values' request was adequate.

         I. Background

         The Antiquities Act of 1906, 54 U.S.C. § 320301, gives the President discretionary power to proclaim “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest” located on federal land as “national monuments.” As relevant here, the Department of Justice has twice weighed in on the scope of the President's power under the Act. In the 1930s, the Attorney General opined that the President lacks authority to revoke a predecessor's monument designation. See 39 Op. Att'y Gen. 185 (1938). A more recent opinion authored by the Department's Office of Legal Counsel (“OLC”) concluded that the Act allowed the President to establish certain monuments in the oceans-outside of the nation's borders-in order to protect domestic marine resources. See 24 Op. O.L.C. 183 (2000).

         Last year, the American Enterprise Institute published a report asserting that those legal opinions had incorrectly interpreted the Antiquities Act. See John Yoo & Todd Gaziano, Am. Enterprise Inst., Presidential Authority to Revoke or Reduce National Monument Designations 5, 13 (2017), https://perma.cc/XKH4-L9J4. The report was co-authored by John Yoo, the former head of OLC, and Todd Gaziano, an attorney involved in lawsuits seeking to reduce the size of several monuments designated by prior presidents. Id. at 20. The release of this report, along with the ongoing “controversy over certain national monument designations” by prior presidents, [1] led Western Values to believe that the Trump administration did not view the 1938 and 2000 opinions as binding. Pl.'s Opp'n Summ. J. at 3.

         In May 2017, Western Values submitted two FOIA requests to the Department of Justice seeking four categories of records dating back to January 20, 2017-the day President Trump took office. Specifically, Western Values sought:

. records “that mention, describe, refer to, or relate to a request or effort to revisit[, ] rescind, amend, or revoke the 2000 OLC opinion titled Administration of Coral Reef Resources in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands dated September 15, 2000”;
. records that “contain, mention, describe, refer to, or relate to a request or effort to revisit[, ] rescind, amend, or revoke the 1938 Attorney General Opinion titled Proposed Abolishment of Castle Pinckney National Monument, 39 Op. Att'y Gen. 185 (1938)”;
. records that “discuss, summarize, or analyze, or include/included as an attachment the American Enterprise Institute's report entitled, ‘Presidential Authority to Revoke or Reduce National Monument Designations,' by John Yoo and Todd Gaziano, dated March 2017”; and
. records of communications between (a) OLC and (b) John Yoo, Todd Gaziano, Pacific Legal Foundations staff, or American Enterprise Institute staff.

Decl. of Paul P. Coborn Supp. Def's Mot. Summ. J. (“Colborn Decl. I”) Exs. A, B.

         The Department issued a so-called “Glomar response”-one refusing to confirm or deny the existence of records-as to all but the fourth category of requested records. Id. Ex. D. As to that final category, the Department conducted a search and informed Western Values that no responsive records existed. Id. In August 2017, Western Values filed this suit challenging the Department's Glomar response and contesting the adequacy of ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.