Lawyers: Private parks should sue Obama administration for forcing them to close

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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During the government shutdown, the Obama administration has forced the closure of privately owned parks, stoking calls from lawyers for park owners to take legal action against the federal government.

“As a lawyer who once worked for the government, I assume there is no legal authority for this because these private tourist attractions were not shut down in prior ‘government shutdowns,’ even under Bill Clinton, who understood how to play political hardball,” Hans Bader, senior attorney at the Competitive Enterprise Institute wrote in an email.

A lawyer with the conservative Heritage Foundation said that the Obama administration’s actions were likely illegal and that business owners forced to close shop should sue.

“They should immediately file a lawsuit and seek a temporary injunction against the government,” said Former Justice Department lawyer Hans Von Spakovsky.

Terry Pell, of the Center for Individual Rights and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights, said that the government had only “a sliver of a justification in each case,” but that a judge could rule against the government under the Administrative Procedure Act.

Pell added that newspaper could sue under the Freedom of Information Act to get “WH [White House] emails to [the] park agency.”

It was reported that the parking lot of the privately-owned Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington, was blocked off by National Park Service officials, but the barricades were removed after numerous complaints.

Also, Virginia’s historic Claude Moore Colonial Farm was also closed by the National Park Service, despite not being financially supported by the Service or using any agency personnel. And despite the fact that the park remained open during the Clinton era government shutdown.

“For the first time in 40 years, the National Park Service (NPS) has finally succeeded in closing the Farm down to the public. In previous budget dramas, the Farm has always been exempted since the NPS provides no staff or resources to operate the Farm,” the farm’s managing director Anna Eberly said in an email to the park’s mailing list.

“The first casualty of this arbitrary action was the McLean Chamber of Commerce who were having a large annual event at the Pavilion on Tuesday evening,” Eberly added. “The NPS sent the Park Police over to remove the Pavilion’s staff and Chamber volunteers from the property while they were trying to set up for their event. Fortunately, the Chamber has friends and they were able to move to another location and salvage what was left of their party. You do have to wonder about the wisdom of an organization that would use staff they don’t have the money to pay to evict visitors from a park site that operates without costing them any money.”

The Washington Times reports that privately operated businesses on federal lands outside of the Washington, DC area have also been forced to close their doors.

Arizona businessman Warren Meyer wrote to his congressman that the campground he runs on federal lands was ordered to close despite receiving no federal funding.

“Yesterday, as in all past government shutdowns, the Department of Agriculture and US Forest Service confirmed we would stay open during the government shutdown… However, today, we have been told by senior member of the US Forest Service and Department of Agriculture that people ‘above the department’, which I presume means the White House, plan to order the Forest Service to needlessly and illegally close all private operations,” Meyer wrote on Wednesday.

“In the ‘government shutdown,’ the government is apparently shutting down many privately-run facilities that have never been shut down in any previous government shut-down, just to inflict political pain — privately-run tourist operations that cost the government nothing to allow open, but cost a lot to shut down,” Bader wrote.

“Private tourist attractions that do not need to be shut down in any government shutdown (and generate tax revenue for the federal government, as well as jobs for the public). This is grotesque political theater,” he added.

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