Lawsuit to the Supreme Court being prepared-

Responding to a report from a New Orleans law firm hired by the Utah Legislature to do a legal analysis of Utah taking away the public lands of the United States, the legislature has ordered the preparation of a lawsuit to do that.

In the past several years the Utah legislature has demanded title to most of America’s public lands in Utah. They even set a deadline. It was ignored by the U.S. government. Most recently they commissioned a New Orleans law firm, the Davillier Law Group, to do a legal analysis of their chances getting what they want by directly approaching the U.S. Supreme Court.

Daviller just responded with an analysis.

They concluded “Based on [our] review and evaluation, it is the opinion of the Legal Consulting Services team that legitimate legal theories exist to pursue litigation in an effort to gain ownership or control of the public lands.1  We caution, however, that litigation is time consuming, expensive, and never certain in outcome. We further caution that the federal government will most likely vigorously oppose this effort, raising substantive and procedural hurdles to achieving such an outcome. In the interest of preserving attorney client privilege, this public document does not discuss all anticipated defenses and counterarguments thereto.”

While this doesn’t appear to be a strong endorsement of a lawsuit, the legislature (actually their committee, Utah Commission For The Stewardship Of Public Lands) just voted 6-2 to prepare a lawsuit. Its estimated cost is $14-million. It was a party line vote — Republicans against the Democrats. The two Democrats, Joel Briscoe and Jim Dabakis, strongly objected to the decision. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, they said, ” ‘We believe in real stewardship — not sales or leases to the highest bidder,’ Briscoe said in a statement released by the party. ‘ The commission spent the last year complaining about the federal government and supporting the illegal acts of a single county commissioner,’ a reference to the commission’s efforts to fund a legal defense for Phil Lyman against criminal charges arising for his motorized protest into Recapture Canyon.” San Juan County Commissioner Lyman was convicted on May 15 by a jury for conspiracy and driving on public lands closed to motor vehicles.  The federal court will sentence him on Dec. 18.

The Deep Creek mountains of western Utah. They are U.S. public lands managed by the BLM. They are part of the 30-million acres demanded by the Utah Legislature. Copyright Ralph Maughan

The Deep Creek mountains of western Utah. They are U.S. public lands managed by the BLM. They are part of the 30-million acres demanded by the Utah Legislature. Copyright Ralph Maughan

Republicans argued that Utah is just trying to regain its sovereignty and that the money from the transferred public lands would help Utah’s problems funding public education.

Utah, nor any Western state, has ever owned the U.S. public lands inside its borders. Those who want the states to own U.S. public lands, always referred to as “federal lands,” often claim that Western states do not have “equal footing” with other states because of the national forest and BLM lands inside their borders. The courts have ruled that equal footing does not apply to matter of U.S. ownership of lands.

Proponents of taking the public lands have claimed that a great deal of revenue would flow to Utah if they were devolved to the state. However, a study commissioned by the legislature to some university economists found that Utah would only come out in the black if oil prices (and so revenues from public lands) remained high. More likely the study said Utah would lose $284-million a year trying to manage the former U.S. public lands.  Since the study came out a year ago, oil prices have collapsed. This has not affected the arguments of the land transfer advocates in Utah.

Opponents of the land transfer have argued that when the state cannot make money on the lands, they will sell off the former national forests, etc. to the highest bidder.

In recent months, most of the Republican candidates for President have come in favor of the land transfer, or “land grab” as  Democrats, conservationists and many hunting groups call it.
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Editorial cartoon in the Salt Lake Tribune

More related stories
Jury: San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman guilty of conspiracy for ATV protest ride. Salt Lake Tribune (SLC). May 1, 2015.
Federal prosecutors argue against new trial in Recapture Canyon illegal ATV ride case. Deseret News. Oct. 9, 2015
University of Utah Researchers: Federal Lands Takeover Won’t Help State Obtain Mineral Resources. University of Utah news release. Dec. 9, 2015.

 

 
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About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University with specialties in natural resource politics, public opinion, interest groups, political parties, voting and elections. Aside from academic publications, he is author or co-author of three hiking/backpacking guides.

12 Responses to Utah legislature doubles down in their effort to grab the public’s land

  1. avatar Ken Watts says:

    I hope Idaho has the fortitude to do what Utah is doing.

    • avatar Matt says:

      I believe Idaho had already thankfully determined it to be a stupid and wasteful idea and has passed on the oppotunity to do so.

    • avatar Jay says:

      You mean try to steal land from the public, and waste taxpayer money in the process?

    • avatar TC says:

      The worst idea, ever, if you are anyone with any connection to wildlife, wild spaces, the outdoors, outdoor recreation, ecology, biology, conservation, clean air, clean water, functioning and productive ecosystems, freedom, our true American heritage, or about 1,000 other economic, emotional, cultural, life-sustaining, and aesthetic values. I hope Ken has the fortitude to educate himself a little more – this would be lose/lose. It also would be unlikely as hell ever to succeed (short of political machinations of epic and almost unrivaled abhorrence – I guess I can’t rule that out anymore).

      • avatar Ida Lupines says:

        The worst idea, ever, if you are anyone with any connection to wildlife, wild spaces, the outdoors, outdoor recreation, ecology, biology, conservation, clean air, clean water, functioning and productive ecosystems, freedom, our true American heritage, or about 1,000 other economic, emotional, cultural, life-sustaining, and aesthetic values.

        Beautifully said and bears repeating. Thank you! It’s sad to see this mentality still alive and well in the 21st century – exploitation and extinction.

  2. avatar Kathleen says:

    Several years ago, when this very same topic was previously in the news, I came across this succinct explanation of how federal lands were determined–starting in 1776 and going through earlier Supreme Court challenges. Sharing the link in case anyone is interested: “Public land belongs to all”
    http://www.thespectrum.com/article/20100113/OPINION/1130337/1014/OPINI

  3. avatar snaildarter says:

    If the States controlled public lands it would mean the end of Nature in the US in 50 years. They (the States) absolutely can not be trusted with this responsiblity.

    • avatar rork says:

      This man continues to be a terrible embarrassment for Detroit, U of Michigan Medical School, the state, and the entire medical profession.

    • avatar WM says:

      Sadly, a thoughtful “fact check” piece like this is lost in the political rhetoric designed to raise expectations in the rich and the dumb(my code words for what passes for members of the R Party or those who would vote R).

      I think brain surgeons actors and guys with sweep hairdos ought to refrain from politics. Well, maybe include former Attorneys General with high squeaky voices from Southern states, now matter how smart they are also ought to refrain from national politics as well.

  4. avatar Mike Bickley says:

    Ralph, Phil Lyman deserves a longer sentence than Tim DeChristopher received (21 months). Looks like we will find out on the 18th.

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‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey

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