As I previously discussed here, the Antiquities Act is probably unconstitutional, and by modifying the size of two monuments, Grand Staircase/Escalante and Bears Ears, President Trump has reined in its worst excesses. But the law remains. While no president has ever undone a national monument designation entirely, as John Yoo and Todd Gaziano explain in a study published by the American Enterprise Institute, previous presidents have downsized national monuments on 18 occasions and modified the management of a number of other monuments. No presidential action to downsize or change the management of a monument has ever been successfully challenged in the courts, however, so it is likely Trump’s actions are legal and will withstand judicial scrutiny. Trump has yet to act on Zinke’s other recommended monument changes and it is unclear if he will.
Although I think Trump’s actions are justified and, indeed, that he should reverse and rescind more monument designations, in truth no president’s actions alone can fix the problems inherent to the dictatorial, entirely undemocratic, and arguably unconstitutional Antiquities Act. As Trump and other presidents before him have shown, what one president establishes as a monument, later presidents can modify.
Indeed, Trump himself yielded to the siren song luring Presidents to declare national monuments. Less than a year after he dramatically reduced the size of two national monuments, he designated 525 acres in Kentucky, once the site of a civil war camp and depot, the Camp Nelson National Monument.