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Mountain States Legal Foundation Fights for Justice From a Mile High

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

My friend William Perry Pendley recently visited Manhattan. He is the president of the Denver-based Mountain States Legal Foundation. Established in 1977, MSLF fights against federal overreach out West and for property rights, the Second Amendment, and colorblind government hiring, among other vital issues. Its founders were master brewer Joe Coors and James Watt, who became President Reagan’s first Interior secretary.


Pendley has helmed MSLF since 1989. He has argued three cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1995, he won Adarand Constructors, Inc. v. Pena, a key victory for race-neutral public contracting. “In the eyes of government, we are just one race here,” Justice Antonin Scalia argued in his concurring opinion. “It is American.”

Since then, Pendley says, the “cowardice” of the G.W. Bush Administration helped foil MSLF’s subsequent attempts to halt race-driven federal contacts. On another matter, the group did score an 8-1 SCOTUS decision favoring a Wyoming man whose property was swiped by the U.S. Forest Service. 

Pendley — author of Sagebrush Rebel: Reagan’s Battle with Environmental Extremists and Why It Matters Today is upbeat about many of President Donald J. Trump’s efforts to deregulate federal land management and speed energy production. 

“Ending the War on Coal was huge for the West,” Pendley says, “especially my home State of Wyoming, but also for western Colorado, Montana, and Utah.” Pendley also praised the Trump administration’s decision not to micro-manage oil and gas fracking, which states and American Indian tribes have handled for years. Likewise, he applauds Trump’s curtailment of Obama’s property-snatching “Waters of the United States” rule, and an end to the job-crushing blunt-instrument trauma of the federal Endangered Species Act. Pendley also says he is “thrilled with Justice Neil Gorsuch’s appointment.” Before the Coloradan’s ascent to that bench, Pendley called the Court “a bi-coastal SCOTUS.”


Conversely, Pendley laments that the Department of Interior seems to be botching a major overhaul of the land-grabbing policies of Obama and his predecessors.

“Secretary Ryan Zinke failed President Trump three ways,” Pendley says. “He failed to revoke any federal-monument designations, even after admitting that several were illegal. He recommended that only four be reduced in size and the rest amended to permit economic use, which environmental groups will sue to stop. And he urged that Trump use the Antiquities Act of 1906 as Clinton and Obama did, that is, by illegally closing federal lands, including a Reagan-era oil and gas lease in Montana that poses a political problem for Zinke.”

Pendley is helping Idaho’s Elizabeth Nesbitt. She wants to carry guns for security when she hikes on land owned by the Army Corps of Engineers. “The Corps controls 12 million acres of recreational lands, a third of all fresh-water fishing,” Pendley says. “The land is rural, isolated, and unpatrolled, yet law-abiding citizens, like Mrs. Nesbitt, may not protect themselves.” The dangers include hostile animals as well as malicious humans, such as robbers, rapists, escaped convicts, and murderers.

The Corps offered to give such gun-carrying permission to Nesbitt and precisely one other plaintiff, but not apply the same principle across the U.S. This is hardly equal justice under law. This would be akin to deciding 1954’s Brown v. Board of Education by letting Linda Brown (who is black) attend a whites-only school in Topeka, Kansas, but keeping America’s schools otherwise segregated. 


Pendley also has battled Obama’s imposition of de facto racial quotas on FAA air-traffic controllers (ATCs). And why not perpetrate racial bean-counting among those who keep jumbo jets from smacking into each other? What could go wrong?

Since 1991, Pendley explains, ATCs had to graduate from special college programs, present strong recommendations from their professors, and achieve top scores on a mind-crushing, 10-hour, computer-based aptitude test.

“No more,” Pendley says. Obama applied a brand-new, highly noxious approach. “To ensure the ‘right’ racial composition, applicants must pass a psychobabble test that no one in my client’s 2,500-to-3,500-member class has passed.” MSLF’s lead plaintiff is Andrew Brigida, the son of a retired New York City cop. Brigida earned 100 percent on the ATC test. Regardless, he waits and waits for his chance to control aircraft, since Obama prioritized skin color over safety.

One of the conservative movement’s low-profile, but high-impact, triumphs is its constellation of public-interest law firms, many of them relatively new. The Left counts the American Civil Liberties Union, Public Citizen, and Earthjustice among dozens of such organizations. Conversely, the Right’s attorneys fight for liberty, free markets, and limited, accountable government at — among other groups — the Institute for Justice, Judicial Watch, and the Goldwater Institute’s recently launched American Freedom Network. The Mountain State’s Legal Foundation is part of this conservative, constitutionalist movement. It surely will have many more motions to file as President Trump relentlessly returns the federal bench to its originalist roots — one judicial appointment at a time.


Deroy Murdock is a Manhattan-based Fox News Contributor.

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