Commentary: The U.S. Justice Department today announced it was suing the State of California over a state law that aimed to limit the federal government’s ability to dispose of national public land. In filing the lawsuit, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said, “the Constitution empowers the federal government — not state legislatures — to decide when and how federal lands are sold.”
Sessions is correct: state legislatures do not control national public lands. This legal position now poses a huge problem for land seizure advocates in states like Utah, which has been threatening a lawsuit to force the federal government to dispose of national public lands.
The Center for Western Priorities released the following statement from Deputy Director Greg Zimmerman:
“A small number of extremist lawmakers in the West have been arguing that the U.S. government has an obligation to dispose of U.S. public lands into state and private hands. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is putting this harebrained policy proposal to rest. Only Congress — not Utah, not California, not Oregon nor Nevada — has the authority to transfer or sell off America’s parks and public lands.
“California is right to be worried that the Trump administration may try to dispose of public land. We hope the Trump administration turns away from misguided and unpopular land giveaways.”
The Property Clause of the U.S. Constitution (Article IV, Section 3) states that Congress has full authority over America’s public lands. With this lawsuit, it is imperative that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke oppose any bill in Congress that would pave the way for the sale of national public land to states or private parties.