District Judge Brian Morris of the U.S. District Court in Montana ruled that Bendley served illegally for 424 days, in response to a lawsuit filed by Democratic Montana Gov. Steve Bullock and the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. Additionally, Morris ruled that Home Secretary David Barnhart cannot choose another person to run the Bureau of Land Administration as its acting chief because that person must be appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.
The judge gave both sides of the case 10 days to provide summaries of Bendali’s orders that should be revoked.
In his opinion, Morris wrote, “Bendaly has worked and continues to operate illegally as an acting director of the BLM.” “His ascent to BLM Acting Director did not follow any of the permitted paths stipulated in the United States Constitution or (Federal Vacancy Reform Act). Bendley was neither nominated by the President nor confirmed by the Senate to serve as a BLM Director.”
He added, “Secretary Bernhard lacked the authority to appoint Bendali as Acting Director of the BLM under the FVRA. Bendali illegally took over the temporary position after the maximum 210 days allowed by the FVRA. Bendali worked illegally as the acting director of the BLM after the president made him a permanent appointment in Senate Confirmation – Another violation of the FVRA. Bendali illegally holds the position of acting director of the BLM under the color of the succession warrant. “
The BLM manages 244 million acres of federal land in the United States – one in every 10 acres of land in the country – along with 30% of the nation’s minerals. As Acting Director of BLM, Pendley had significant authority over leasing and using land for mining, recreation, oil and gas exploration and development along with preserving the environmental protection of federal lands. The agency is currently taking steps to move its headquarters and staff to the West.
Last year, Bendaly became the fifth person to head the office on a temporary basis, after director Neil Kornsey left less than a year in the Trump administration. Bullock filed a lawsuit in July challenging Bendali’s authority.
Bendaly, a conservative activist, commentator and attorney, was appointed by Bernhard as acting director in July 2019.
Morris wrote that by law, the position of Director of the Bureau of Land Administration is required to be confirmed by the Senate. The Trump administration has argued that Bendley was not officially an acting director, so the condition does not apply.
Morris wrote that “such arguments prove to be elusive and undermine the constitutional order of checks and balances,” adding that the administration had referred to Bendali publicly as the agency’s director.
Home Office spokesman Conner Swanson told CNN in an email that the administration would resume “immediately”.
“This is a shameful decision and it is outside the law,” Swanson said.
Pollock, challenging Republican Senator Steve Dines in a competitive race for the Senate, tweeted, “Today’s ruling is a victory for the constitution, the rule of law, and our public lands.”
CNN’s Catlin Bolantz contributed to this report.