A federal judge ruled William Perry Pendley served unlawfully as acting director of the US Bureau of Land Management director for 424 days and prohibited him from continuing to serve in that role. US District Court of Montana Chief District Judge Brian Morris issued that ruling in a Sept. 25 decision regarding a lawsuit filed by Gov. Steve Bullock and the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation against the BLM, Pendley and the US Department of the Interior Secretary David Bernhardt.
Plaintiffs filed the lawsuit on July 20, alleging Pendley unlawfully served as as acting BLM director, in violation of the US Constitution, the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998 and the Administrative Procedure Act.
Plaintiffs also claimed that while serving as acting BLM director, Pendley’s actions and decisions had “a significant and harmful effect on the environmental, economic and regulatory interests Montana. The lawsuit noted a departure from commitments to protect sagebrush habitat for greater sage-grouse, and two resource management plans that plaintiffs said “would reduce protections for fish and wildlife habitat, cultural resources, and recreational uses on federal lands in Montana.”
The BLM manages 245 million acres, 27 million of that in Montana. Law states the BLM director position must be filled by the president and confirmed by the senate. According to court documents, the BLM has not had a senate-confirmed director since January 2017.
Defendants argued the plaintiffs allegations “lacked standing and that Pendley’s service does not violate the Appointments Clause.”
The court sided with the plaintiffs, ruling Pendley served unlawfully as acting BLM director, prohibiting him from exercising authority as BLM director and prohibiting Bernhardt from delegating the authority of the BLM director.
Bullock called the ruling a “win for the Constitution, the rule of law and our public lands.”
“Montanans can rest easy knowing that National Public Lands Day will begin with William Perry Pendle packing his desk and vacating the director’s office at the Bureau of Land Management,” Bullock wrote in a Sept. 25 news release.
Both plaintiffs and defendants have 10 days to file briefs regarding which of Pendley’s orders should be vacated.