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Acting director of the Bureau of Land Management served unlawfully for a year, rules judge

William Perry Pendley has been ordered to leave his position

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Glacier National Park in Montana
Glacier National Park in Montana
(NurPhoto / Getty Images)
Updated: September 28, 2020 - 10:01am

A federal judge has ordered William Perry Pendley, the acting director of the Bureau of Land Management, to vacate his position. The Montana judge ruled that Pendley has been serving unlawfully in the role for the past 424 days.

Pendley was temporarily appointed to his position in July of 2019, and nominated officially by President Trump in July of 2020, though that nomination was withdrawn earlier this month. The judge's ruling prohibits Pendley from using his post to make any further decisions about federal lands.

"Pendley has served and continues to serve unlawfully as the Acting B.L.M. director," said judge Brian Morris, who delivered the ruling on Friday.

Pendley's climb to his current position "did not follow any of the permissible paths set forth by the U.S. Constitution," the judge also wrote.

Since 2017, the bureau has been without an official, Senate-confirmed director, though five individuals have temporarily held the position. 

Morris, an Obama appointee, ruled that Pendley had violated the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, which imposes a limit on the amount of time an official can remain in a vacant position without approval by the Senate. The act prevents people from serving in "acting" capacities in positions they have been nominated to hold permanently.

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat against incumbent-Republican Sen. Steve Daines for a Senate seat, called the ruling "a win for the Constitution, the rule of law, and our pubic lands." 

The bureau oversees about 245 million acres of federal public lands and 700 million acres of subsurface land, containing 30% of the minerals in the U.S. Almost a third of the land in the state of Montana is owned by the federal government.  

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