The US Department of Interior intends to appeal a judge’s decision to oust William Perry Pendley, Donald Trump’s appointment to the Bureau of Land Management, after he has directed the agency for more than a year without Senate confirmation.
US District Judge Brian Morris ruled on Friday that Mr Pendley has “unlawfully served” in the role for more than 400 days without Senate approval, breaking from constitutional procedure.
The judge ruled that Interior Secretary David Bernhardt can’t select another person to run the agency as an acting chief until that person is appointed by the president and confirmed in the Senate.
"Pendley has served and continues to serve unlawfully," Judge Morris ruled.
He argued that his ascent “did not follow any of the permissable paths” outlined in by federal law and the Constitution.
The ruling following a legal challenge from Montana Governor Steve Bullock, a Democrat, who argued in a lawsuit that Mr Pendley – a former oil industry attorney – could exploit most of the state’s federal land to oil and gas extraction.
He called the ruling a “win for the Constitution, the rule of law, and our public lands.”
In June, Mr Trump announced he intended to formally nominate Mr Pendley for the job, but he withdrew the nomination this month ahead of critical elections in November, including the Montana Senate race, in which the governor is running to unseat the incumbent Republican.
Despite the president’s withdrawal, Mr Pendley – as his temporary appointment was set to expire – issued an order to subvert his expiration by creating his own position as a deputy director, according to a document obtained by The Associated Press, while leaving the top post vacant.
The BLM manages nearly 250 million acres of federal land, or roughly one of every 10 acres, in the US.
In office, Mr Pendley has approved two plans in Montana that would open 95 per cent of federal land in the state to oil and gas development, Governor Bullock argued in court filings.
Mr Pendley has joined a long list of the president’s department heads who have turned their interim appointments into permanent leadership, without congressional oversight.
The president has filled several high-level jobs in his administration with appointees in ostensibly temporary or “acting” roles, circumventing the Senate confirmation process.
A government watchdog recently argued that the president’s acting officials at the Department of Homeland Security – including its director Chad Wolf and deputy Ken Cuccinelli – were “unlawfully” appointed.
The Government Accountability Office said that the two men were appointed through an invalid order of succession. The DHS inspector general has declined to investigate the report and is leaving the measure up to the courts.