A federal judge on Friday blocked William Perry Pendley, the anti-public lands extremist who has overseen the federal Bureau of Land Management for more than a year, from continuing to lead the bureau.
U.S. District Judge Brian Morris in Montana ruled that Pendley has illegally served as acting director of BLM for more than 400 days.
The decision comes in response to a lawsuit filed in August by Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D), which argued that Pendley’s ongoing tenure violates the Federal Vacancies Reform Act. The act limits the amount of time Cabinet officials may serve in an acting role to 210 days.
“Today’s ruling is a win for the Constitution, the rule of law, and our public lands,” Bullock wrote in a Twitter response. “Montanans can rest easy knowing that National Public Lands Day will begin with William Perry Pendley packing his desk and vacating the Director’s Office.”
National Public Lands Day is Saturday.
A former property rights attorney who spent his career arguing that public lands should not even exist, Pendley has led the bureau since July 2019 via a series of controversial temporary reappointments. He’s overseen 245 million acres of federal land ― more than 10% of the entire U.S. landmass ― without ever having to face the scrutiny of a Senate confirmation process.
“The President cannot shelter unconstitutional ‘temporary’ appointments for the duration of his presidency through a matryoshka doll of delegated authorities,” Morris wrote in his decision.
President Donald Trump formally nominated Pendley in June to serve as BLM permanent director only to turn around and withdraw the nomination in August amid mounting public outrage. It was later revealed that Pendley personally crafted and signed a succession order to keep himself at the helm of the bureau indefinitely.
The Interior Department, which previously dismissed Bullock’s legal challenge as frivolous, called Friday’s ruling “outrageous” and “well outside the bounds of the law.”
“It betrays long-standing practice of the Department going back several administrations,” spokesperson Conner Swanson said in an email. “We will be appealing this decision immediately.”
Drilling, mining and logging have been top priorities on public lands during Trump’s tenure, and Pendley has played a key role in working to boost development in the West. The court could ultimately invalidate rules and plans that Pendley was involved in crafting.
“The Court recognizes that any “function or duty” of the BLM Director that has been performed by Pendley would have no force and effect and must be set aside as arbitrary and capricious,” Morris wrote in his opinion. He gave the Interior Department and Bullock 10 days to file briefs detailing which of Pendley’s orders should be scrapped.
The Interior Department, which oversees BLM, has tried in recent months to claim that Pendley has never served as acting chief. “William Perry Pendley is not, and has never been, Acting BLM Director,” an Interior spokesperson recently told HuffPost.
BLM and Pendley himself have both used that title.