Mountain States Legal Foundation spent 2019 championing western values, including private property rights, the Second Amendment, religious freedom and more.
Our attorneys helped secure several precedent-setting victories for the liberty of American citizens last year:
- Colorado resident Michael Whited, an MSLF client, finally got justice against the Bureau of Land Management. MSLF helped him sue because BLM negligence allowed a shed (on federal property it manages) to collapse onto his property, causing damage. Like a terrible neighbor, the federal agency tried to skirt responsibility for the damage it caused Mr. Whited’s private property. But in July 2019, we won an out-of-court settlement for him, including compensation for the damages and the right to build a retaining wall on his property.
- The federal Army Corps of Engineers surrendered this year by choosing not to reinstate an appeal of a prior MSLF victory against them regarding the Second Amendment. MSLF successfully sued the Corps of Engineers over its unconstitutional firearms ban on behalf of Ms. Elizabeth Nesbitt and Mr. Alan Baker. The Idaho District Court ruled the ban was unconstitutional and blocked its enforcement in Idaho. This was an unequivocal win for Second Amendment and U.S. citizens. The agency’s 2019 decision not to reopen the appeal solidified that victory.
- MSLF rejoiced last year when the Supreme Court upheld the right of communities to build and maintain cross-shaped war memorials. Our attorneys submitted an amicus brief in American Legion v. American Humanist Association. An aggressive atheist group wanted to tear down the Bladensburg Peace Cross, a World War I memorial in Maryland, claiming it violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Recognizing other memorials were at risk, MSLF filed an amicus brief on behalf of Taos, New Mexico which had its own cross-shaped memorial that was also in the atheists’ crosshairs. MSLF urged The Supreme Court to uphold the right to preserve memorials that include crosses, and the Court did just that in June 2019.
- We also witnessed a partial victory in the Supreme Court case Kisor v. Wilkie. James Kisor is a U.S. veteran who fought for years to get the VA benefits he was owed. Ambiguous VA rules kept him from getting benefits and he sued. A lower court ruled the VA could interpret its own rules under what it calls Auer deference. The Supreme Court took the case on and MSLF submitted an amicus brief urging it to strike down the Auerdeference (where courts defer to federal agencies interpretations of their own rules) because it gives unelected bureaucrats free rein. The Supreme Court ruling did not reject Auerdeference entirely, but it “reinforced” and “expounded” on its limitations. Justice Neil Gorsuch also appeared to take MSLF’s concerns about Auer to heart when he paraphrased a central argument from our amicus brief in oral argument.
Building upon 2019’s successes, including these victories, MSLF will continue fighting to protect and restore constitutional freedoms throughout the coming year.