Governor Kristi Noem gets out-of-state help in Rushmore fireworks lawsuit

KELOLAND.com Original

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:  We’ve updated the headline of this story in response to concerns about a previous word choice.

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — A federal judge has ruled to allow the Attorneys General of 17 states to join in support of Governor Kristi Noem’s lawsuit against the federal government, filed after the National Park Service (NPS) rejected her permit for July 4 fireworks at Mount Rushmore.

In the initial suit, the State of South Dakota and Gov. Noem are suing Department of Interior (DOI) Secretary Deb Haaland, DOI Deputy Assistant Secretary Shannon Estenoz, NPS acting Director and Deputy Director of Operations Shawn Benge and NPS Director of the Midwest Region Herbert Frost.

The various Attorneys General have joined in the form of an amicus brief, a legal maneuver which allows parties with a relevant interest to join a suit by offering information, support or insight.

The amicus curiae brief was led by Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt.

Now approved, the list of Attorneys General which have joined, along with Schmidt, in support of Noem are as follows:

  • Steve Marshall, Alabama
  • Mark Brnovich, Arizona
  • Leslie Rutledge, Arkansas
  • Christopher Carr, Georgia
  • Theodore Rokita, Indiana
  • Daniel Cameron, Kentucky
  • Jeff Landry, Louisiana
  • Lynn Fitch, Mississippi
  • Eric Schmitt, Missouri
  • Austin Knudsen, Montana
  • Douglas Peterson, Nebraska
  • Dave Yost, Ohio
  • Mike Hunter, Oklahoma
  • Herbert Slatery, Tennessee
  • Ken Paxton, Texas
  • Patrick Morrisey, West Virginia

The officials from the 17 states filed their brief asking to be approved on the grounds that they have a collective interest in the outcome “because their citizens may wish to attend the Mount Rushmore fireworks display or view it on television,” and “an interest in ensuring that the Department of Interior, which manages land within the States, makes reasoned permitting decisions.”

In a release published to the Kansas Attorney General’s website, Schmidt claims that Noem’s permit was “blocked by a federal agency’s ‘erratic decision-making’,” and that ” in rejecting South Dakota’s permit, the Department of the Interior offered only the flimsiest of rationales, unsupported by any evidence or reasoned explanation.”

Schmidt justified entering the suit, saying that “Given the importance of the Fourth of July holiday and the special role of Mount Rushmore as a national monument, amici States have an interest in seeing the fireworks display take place again this year.”

The decision from Chief Judge Roberto A. Lange states that the Supreme Court has always always allowed “great liberality” in allowing nonparties to file amicus curiae briefs. In addition to this, he states that courts consider whether the proffered information is timely, useful, or otherwise warrants consideration when deciding whether to grant such motions.

On Friday, the judge allowed the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, along with their Tribal Historic Preservation Officer Steve Vance to join the suit as intervenor defendants after they filed on the grounds that they had been misrepresented by the Governor.

The growing case comes with an accompanying tangle of attorneys. Representing the State of South Dakota and Governor Noem are Katie Hruska and Mark Miller, both state employees, as well as Brian Weir and Jeffrey Harris of the Virginia based law firm Consovoy McCarthy.

KELOLAND News has made a request to the Governor’s Office for the amount which the attorneys from Consovoy and McCarthy are being paid by the state. A final fee has not been determined, but according to an email from Noem’s communications director Ian Fury, “there is a contract with the law firm for hourly rates of $600 for partners and $450 for associates. The contract has a cap of $150,000.” Fury says the funds will be paid from the Extraordinary Litigation Fund, which has a budget of $301,973.

Hruska and Miller, state employees are paid $109,140 and $140,000 per year, respectively.

Schmidt meanwhile is sending Kansas money to South Dakota, being represented by James E. Moore of Woods, Fuller, Shultz and Smith, PC of Sioux Falls. KELOLAND News has reached out to Schmidt for comment on the case, but has not received a response.

On the defendant side of the aisle, the various government officials from the DOI and NPS are being represented by Diana J. Ryan with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for South Dakota.

Vance and the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe are represented by Leonika Rose Charging-Davison, Amber E. Holland, Calandra S. McCool, Nicole E. Ducheneaux and Rose M. Weckenmann, all of Big Fire Law & Policy Group, LLP.

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