Tribes fight to keep Bears Ears lawsuit in D.C.

American Indian tribes suing President Donald Trump and the federal government for axing Bears Ears National Monument have filed a motion in opposition of the government’s intent to move the case to Utah.

After Trump’s Dec. 4 visit to Salt Lake City, where he announced the cutting of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, several tribes and conservation groups sued the president, saying the 1906 Antiquities Act gives him the power to create monuments, but not alter them.

On Wednesday, the five lawsuits were consolidated into two, one dealing with Bears Ears and the other with Grand Staircase.

On Jan. 18, the federal government filed a motion in the Bears Ears case to move it from U.S. District Court in Washington to Utah. The motion argued that hearings in Utah would be more convenient for the plaintiffs, due to their closer proximity to Utah than to D.C., and that there is vested Utahn interest in the case that is unmatched in the district.

The tribes responded Thursday with a motion in opposition, saying they have land in Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado in addition to Utah. Further, the tribes argue that this case affects more than one state’s residents.

“But contrary to the Defendants’ argument,” the motion states, “the interests of Utahans are not dominant in this case, would not be sufficient to overcome the Tribes’ choice of forum even if they were, and the national importance of this case weighs heavily against transfer.”

Further, the tribes hint at perceived disingenuousness on behalf of the federal government, saying the preference to move the proceedings to Utah — a supposedly more inconvenient location for the government — isn’t explained well.

The tribe’s motion says U.S. Judge Tanya S. Chutkan should not allow the federal government to “forum shop.”

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