District Court Justice Brian Morris of the US District Court of Montana ruled that Pendley had served unlawfully for 424 days in response to a lawsuit from Montana Democratic Governor Steve Bullock and the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. Morris also ruled Home Secretary David Bernhardt and cannot select anyone other than the head of the Bureau of Land Management to act as the acting head because that person must be appointed by the President and approved by the Senate.
The judge gave both sides of the case 10 days to submit information about which of Pendley’s orders must be overturned.
“Pendley has and will be illegally serving as acting BLM director,”
He added: “Secretary Bernhardt lacked the authority to appoint Pendley as acting BLM director under the FVRA. Pendley illegally assumed the temporary position beyond the 210-day maximum allowed by the FVRA. Pendley illegally served as acting BLM director after the president filed his permanent Senate nomination for confirmation – another FVRA violation. And Pendley is illegally serving as acting BLM director today, under the color of the successor minutes. “
The BLM manages 244 million acres of state in the United States – one of 10 acres in the country – along with 30% of the country’s minerals. As acting director of BLM, Pendley had significant powers in the leasing and use of land for mining, recreation, oil and gas exploration and development, and environmental conservation for states. The agency is currently taking steps to relocate its headquarters and staff to the west.
Last year, Pendley became the fifth person to temporarily head the office after Director Neil Kornze joined the Trump administration for less than a year. Bullock filed a lawsuit against Pendley’s authority in July.
Pendley, a conservative activist, commentator, and lawyer, was named acting director by Bernhardt in July 2019.
Morris wrote that the position of director of the Bureau of Land Management must be legally approved by the Senate. The Trump administration argued that Pendley did not officially hold the title of acting director, so the requirement does not apply.
“Such arguments prove evasive and undermine the constitutional system of scrutiny,” wrote Morris, adding that the government publicly designated Pendley as the agency’s director.
Home Office spokesman Conner Swanson told CNN in an email that the administration would appeal “immediately”.
“This is an outrageous decision that is well beyond the limits of the law,” said Swanson.
Bullock, who challenges GOP Senator Steve Daines in a competitive Senate race, tweeted, “Today’s decision is a win for the Constitution, the rule of law and our public lands.”
CNN’s Katelyn Polantz contributed to this report.