District Attorney Brian Morris of the U.S. District Court of Montana ruled that Pendley served illegally for 424 days in response to a lawsuit filed by Democratic Montana Gov. Stay Bullock and the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. Morris also told Secretary of State David Bernard that he could not choose another person to take over the presidency of the Earth Administration, as that person must be appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate.
The judge gave both sides of the case 10 days to submit brief information on which of Pendley’s orders should be emptied.
“Pendley has served and continues to serve illegally as deputy director of BLM,” Morris wrote in his opinion. “His rise to the post of Deputy Director of the BLM did not follow any of the permissible paths set out in the US Constitution or the Federal Vacancy Reform Act. Pendley has not been appointed by the President and has not been confirmed by the Senate to serve as BLM Director. “
He added, “Secretary Bernhardt did not have the authority to appoint Pendley as Deputy Director of BLM under the FVRA. Pendley illegally took the temporary post beyond the maximum of 210 days allowed by the FVRA. Pendley illegally served as Deputy “BLM director after submitting his permanent appointment to the Senate for confirmation – another breach of the FVRA.
BLM manages 244 million acres of federal land in the United States – one in 10 acres of land in the country – along with 30% of the country’s minerals. As Deputy Director of BLM, Pendley has exercised considerable authority over the leasing and use of land for the extraction, recreation and exploration and development of oil and gas, as well as the preservation of environmental protection for federal territories. The agency is currently taking steps to relocate its headquarters and staff to the west.
Last year, Pendley became the fifth person to lead the office on a temporary basis since director Neil Kornze left less than a year in the Trump administration. Bullock filed a lawsuit in July challenging Pentley’s authority.
Pendley, a conservative activist, commentator and lawyer, was appointed by Bernhardt as deputy director in July 2019.
Morris wrote that, by law, the position of director of the Office of Land Management must be confirmed by the Senate. The Trump administration claimed that Pendley did not officially have the title of director, so the requirement does not apply.
“Such arguments are proving vague and undermining the constitutional system of control and balance,” Morris wrote, adding that the administration had publicly referred to Padley as the agency’s director.
Home Office spokesman Conner Swanson told CNN via email that the administration would appeal “immediately.”
“This is an outrageous decision that is far beyond the law,” Swanson said.
Bullock, who challenged GOP senator Steve Daines in a rival Senate race, wrote on Twitter, “Today’s decision is a victory for the Constitution, the rule of law and our public lands.”
CNN’s Katelyn Polantz contributed to this report.