Bush camp backpedals on toppling monuments

  Vice presidential candidate Richard Cheney may have spoken too soon in August, when he said George W. Bush might rescind national monuments created by President Clinton (HCN, 9/11/00).

U.S. presidents have created 114 monuments under the 1906 Antiquities Act, and undoing them is unlikely, according to University of Colorado law professor Charles Wilkinson. In 1996, Wilkinson helped Interior Department Solicitor John Leshy draft Clinton's proclamation creating the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah.

Wilkinson cites a 1938 opinion by Attorney General Homer Cummings, who worked for Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The Interior secretary had asked Roosevelt to abolish the Castle Pinckney National Monument in Charleston, S.C., but Cummings concluded that the Antiquities Act didn't allow it.

"The Supreme Court hasn't spoken to that directly, but courts have given deference to attorney general opinions," says Wilkinson.

Harrison Dunning, a University of California-Davis law professor, sees things differently. Cummings' opinion doesn't bind the courts, he says, "and I'd assume that since the president does it in the first place, another president can say "I don't want it anymore." "''''

Nonetheless, Cheney has backpedaled. While the Bush camp hasn't ruled out the possibility completely, Cheney press secretary Juleanna Glover Weiss repeats a statement about monuments that Bush made last June: "It is a very hard egg to unscramble."

*Tony Davis
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