District Chief Justice Brian Morris of the United States District Court of Montana ruled that Pendley served illegally for 424 days, in response to a lawsuit filed by Democratic Montana Governor Steve Bullock and the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation of Montana. Morris further stated that Interior Secretary David Bernhardt cannot choose another person to head the Bureau of Land Management as interim head because that person must be appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate.
The judge gave both sides of the case 10 days to file pleadings as to which of Pendley’s orders should be vacated.
“Pendley has served and continues to serve illegally as acting director of BLM,”
He added: “Secretary Bernhardt did not have the authority to appoint Pendley as the acting Director of the BLM under the FVRA. Pendley illegally took the temporary position beyond the 210-day maximum allowed by the FVRA. Pendley illegally served as Director of the BLM. interim after the President submitted his permanent nomination to the Senate for confirmation – another violation of the FVRA. And Pendley illegally serves as BLM interim director today, under the color of the Memo of Succession.
The BLM manages 244 million acres of federal land in the United States – one in every 10 acres of land in the country – along with 30 percent of the nation’s minerals. As acting director of the BLM, Pendley exercised significant authority over the leasing and use of land for mining, recreation and oil and gas exploration and development, as well as maintaining environmental protection. for federal lands. The agency is currently taking steps to move its headquarters and employees west.
Last year, Pendley became the fifth person to lead the office on a temporary basis following the departure of director Neil Kornze for less than a year in the Trump administration. Bullock filed a lawsuit in July challenging Pendley’s authority.
Pendley, a conservative activist, commentator and lawyer, was appointed by Bernhardt as acting director in July 2019.
Morris wrote that, by law, the office of director of the Bureau of Land Management must be confirmed by the Senate. The Trump administration said Pendley did not officially have the title of acting director, so the requirement does not apply.
“Such arguments prove evasive and undermine the constitutional system of checks and balances,” Morris wrote, adding that the administration has publicly referred to Pendley as the director of the agency.
Department of Interior spokesman Conner Swanson told CNN in an email that the administration will appeal “immediately”.
“This is an outrageous decision that is well outside the bounds of the law,” Swanson said.
Bullock, who is challenging GOP Senator Steve Daines in a competitive Senate race, tweeted: “Today’s ruling is a victory for the Constitution, the rule of law and our public lands.”
CNN’s Katelyn Polantz contributed to this report.