The Utah A.G.’s office responded to an ACLU of Utah letter expressing concerns about the possible First Amendment implications of an investigation into advocacy groups involved in the dispute over a Bears Ears national monument.
Attorney General Office Will Not “Investigate” Activist Groups Involved in Bears Ears Advocacy
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 14, 2016
SALT LAKE CITY, UT — The ACLU of Utah has received confirmation from the Utah Attorney General’s Office that investigations will not be conducted into activism in favor of, or in opposition to, the designation of a national monument in southeastern Utah.
“The Office of the Attorney General does not investigate cases unless there is a specific allegation of misconduct and the office will not use its investigative power to influence or interfere with public policy debate, no matter the parties involved or the import of the questions at issue,” wrote the Attorney General’s Office in a statement to the ACLU of Utah. “Using such powers to resolve a public policy debate undermines the trust invested in our office and threatens free speech.”
The statement came in response to a letter from the ACLU of Utah to the Office of the Attorney General’s Office, in which the ACLU of Utah expressed concerns about the possible First Amendment implications of Utah’s “Constitutional Defense Council” calling for an investigation into advocacy groups involved in the dispute over a Bears Ears national monument.
“We are glad that Native American organizations are not getting harassed or silenced for taking a political stand,” said Willie Grayeyes, Utah Diné Bikéyah Board Chair, when informed by the ACLU of Utah about the statement. “Freedom of speech is as important to democracy as conservation is to Mother Earth.”
In April, the Constitutional Defense Council –created “to assist the Governor and Legislature with constitutional issues affecting States’ rights” (Utah Code §63C-4a-203) – voted to support a request by Rep. Mike Noel (R-Kanab) asking the Governor’s Office and the Utah Attorney General to investigate advocacy groups both in favor of, and in opposition to, the potential monument.
Originally, Rep. Noel asked the Council to investigate only the supporters of a Bears Ears monument, asserting that Native Americans who are supportive of such a designation are being “co-opted” by environmental groups such as the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Living Rivers and Grand Canyon Trust. After some Councilmembers expressed concern that such an investigation would be too one-sided, the Council broadened its request to include opposition groups, as well.
“That this chilling message was intended for people on both sides of the question does not excuse the threat to free speech, freedom of association and the people’s right to petition their government,” said ACLU of Utah Legal Director John Mejia. “We felt it was very important that the Attorney General publicly decline the Council’s request for this ‘investigation,’ and we are glad to report that General Reyes’ office has now done so.”