A federal judge in Montana has ordered that conservative firebrand William Perry Pendley should not lead the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, saying that Pendley has “served unlawfully” for more than a year.
U.S. District Court Judge Brian Morris in his ruling on Friday also barred Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt from “unlawfully delegating the authority of the BLM director.” In addition, Morris said he would consider which acts Pendley had performed in office should be set aside.
An Interior Department spokesman told The Associated Press that the ruling will be immediately appealed.
Morris is the chief judge for the U.S. District of Montana, and the ruling came in a lawsuit filed by Montana Gov. Steve Bullock in July meant to enjoin Pendley from continuing to head up BLM.
Morris said in his ruling: “The Court declares that William Perry Pendley served unlawfully as the Acting BLM Director for 424 days.”
Pendley was tapped by Bernardt for a senior role at the agency in July 2019 and nominated as director earlier this year, which would require U.S. Senate confirmation.
But his nomination was withdrawn by the Trump administration in August amid an outcry from advocacy groups. It also appeared the White House made the move to protect three vulnerable Republican senators from Western states — Martha McSally of Arizona, Cory Gardner of Colorado and Steve Daines of Montana — from a tough confirmation vote.
Pendley had nonetheless remained in charge as BLM’s deputy director of programs and policy.
Pendley was allowed to act with the authority of the BLM director’s office until a director is confirmed, according to an order that Pendley and Casey Hammond, an Interior official who oversees public lands issues, signed in May, before Pendley was nominated by the president.
The administration has said that the order does not officially make Pendley the agency’s acting director and therefore does not conflict with the Vacancy Reform Act that limits acting officials’ legal tenure to less than nine months.