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Federal judge removes Trump's public lands official for illegally taking up office

09:54 PM Sep 27, 2020 | Xinhua

A U.S. federal judge removed a senior official of the Trump administration, who has illegally held the position for 424 days.

William Perry Pendley, a far-right American conservative activist and commentator, has been serving as the acting director of the U.S. Interior Department Bureau of Land Management (BLM) since 2019 without being confirmed by the Senate as required under the Constitution.

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On Friday, Chief District Judge Brian Morris of the U.S. District Court of Montana ruled that Pendley has been serving unlawfully, in response to a lawsuit brought by Montana's Democratic Governor Steve Bullock and the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.

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Morris also ruled that the two sides of the case should file briefs about which of Pendley's orders issued during his public land chief career must be vacated.

Moreover, the judge ruled Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt cannot pick another person to run the BLM as its acting head because Pendley's successor must be appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.

Although his tenure expired a month ago, "Pendley continued to hang on to the post, under an arrangement that Pendley himself set up months ago," CNBC said.

Pendley is one of several senior officials in the Trump administration running federal agencies and departments despite not having gone before the Senate for the confirmation hearings that are required for top posts, CNBC reported Saturday.

"The Trump administration continues to laugh at American law and support wealthy capitalists who have no respect for the law, the environment, or science," Washington political analyst David Richardson told Xinhua Saturday.

"They have certainly found extraordinary ways by bypassing the (U.S.) Constitution," he said.

Trump administration officials quickly responded to the ruling, blaming former U.S. President Barack Obama by saying he had "similarly filled key posts at the agency with temporary authorizations."

Analysts agree that Pendley should have left his position long ago.

"Today's ruling is a win for the Constitution, the rule of law, and our public lands," Montana Governor Steve Bullock said in a statement Friday.

Bullock, a Democrat, who runs a conservative western state that voted for Trump overwhelmingly in 2016, said that the former oil industry attorney was illegally overseeing an agency that manages almost a quarter-billion acres of land in the U.S. West.

The BLM regulates activities ranging from mining and oil extraction to livestock grazing and recreation. Under Trump, it has been at the forefront in the administration's drive to loosen environmental restrictions for oil and gas drilling and other development on public lands, CNBC reported Friday.

Last month, the Government Accountability Office, a bipartisan congressional watchdog, said acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and his acting deputy, Ken Cuccinelli, were improperly serving and ineligible to run the agency under the Vacancy Reform Act.

Wolf and Cuccinelli have been at the forefront of administration initiatives on immigration and law enforcement.

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