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General Antiquities Act

Anasazi rock art  in Utah. Courtesy of BLM.

NRS | Federal Lands | Recreation and Preservation | Creation of the NPS

Devils Tower National Monument. Courtesy of NASA.In 1906, Congress passed the General Antiquities Act. The Act, drafted by an archaeologist, gave the President the power to set aside objects and structures of historic and scientific interest as national monuments. 16 U.S.C. §431. The Antiquities Act provides, in relevant part:

The President of the United States is authorized, in his discretion, to declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States to be national monuments, and may reserve as a part thereof parcels of land, the limits of which in all cases shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected....

16 U.S.C. § 431. Presidential Proclamations designating national monuments have been challenged in only a handful of cases; in each the court has upheld the President's action. The Supreme Court has considered the Antiquities Act in three cases, each time confirming the broad power delegated to the President under the Act. United States v. California, 436 U.S. 32, 56 L. Ed. 2d 94, 98 S. Ct. 1662 (1978); Cappaert v. United States, 426 U.S. 128, 141-42, 48 L. Ed. 2d 523, 96 S. Ct. 2062 (1976); Cameron v. United States, 252 U.S. 450, 64 L. Ed. 659, 40 S. Ct. 410 (1920). Despite its age, the 1906 Antiquities Act is still used today by U.S. Presidents exercising their executive authority to elevate the protected status of lands and structures already under federal control. Approximately 120 monuments have been designated since 1906, many of which are managed by the National Park Service. 1 Pub. Nat. Resources L. §2.10( 2d ed. 2007).


Updated May 12, 2015

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