A federal judge in Montana has ordered the removal of acting Bureau of Land Management head William Pendley and is forcing him to step down, as he has been in the position for over a year without any Senate confirmation.
Chief District Judge Brian Morris of the US District Court of Montana ruled that Pendley has served unlawfully for 424 days, in response to a lawsuit brought by Democratic Montana Gov. Steve Bullock and the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.
Morris additionally ruled Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt cannot pick another person to run the Bureau of Land Management as its acting head because that person must be appointed by the President and Senate-confirmed.
The judge gave both sides of the case 10 days to file briefs about which of Pendley's orders must be vacated.
"Pendley has served and continues to serve unlawfully as the Acting BLM Director," Morris wrote in his opinion. "His ascent to Acting BLM Director did not follow any of the permissible paths set forth by the U.S. Constitution or the (Federal Vacancies Reform Act). Pendley has not been nominated by the President and has not been confirmed by the Senate to serve as BLM Director."
He added, "Secretary Bernhardt lacked the authority to appoint Pendley as an Acting BLM Director under the FVRA. Pendley unlawfully took the temporary position beyond the 210-day maximum allowed by the FVRA. Pendley unlawfully served as Acting BLM Director after the President submitted his permanent appointment to the Senate for confirmation -- another violation of the FVRA. And Pendley unlawfully serves as Acting BLM Director today, under color of the Succession Memo."
Pendley was nominated to be the permanent director of the agency in July but the Trump administration withdrew his nomination in September after a series of controversial statements -- including saying that climate change is not real and falsely saying that there was no credible evidence of a hole in the ozone layer -- were made public by CNN's KFile.