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President Trump issued a proclamation in December 2017 purporting to remove two million acres in southern Utah from national monument status, radically shrinking the Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument and splitting the Bears Ears National Monument into two residual protected areas. Whether the President has the power to revise or revoke existing monuments under the Antiquities Act, which creates the national monument system, is a new question of law for a 112-year-old statute that has been used by Presidents from Theodore Roosevelt to Barack Obama to protect roughly fifteen million acres of federal land and hundreds of millions of marine acres. If President Trump’s shrinkages stand, they will be the largest removal of public lands from protected status in U.S. history, and will put the remaining national monuments on the chopping block.

This Article advances a novel theory showing that the President lacks the power to revise or revoke monuments. The Antiquities Act gives a power only to protect public lands, not to remove them from protection. Arguments developed so far in litigation and scholarship fail to recognize a general feature of public- lands law: It consistently denies the President the power unilaterally to remove lands from statutorily protected categories once they are placed within those categories. The Antiquities Act should be read to be consistent with this field- wide pattern.


Land Use Law | Law | President/Executive Department