South Dakota governor who threatened Biden administration over fireworks loses in court
A federal judge said forcing the Interior Department to allow Independence Day fireworks despite safety concerns would be ‘improper judicial activism.’
A federal judge has rejected South Dakota GOP Gov. Kristi Noem’s attempt to circumvent safety rules and hold a massive Independence Day fireworks show at Mount Rushmore. He said her request amounted to asking for “judicial activism.”
“This country could use a good celebration of its foundational principles of democracy, liberty, and equal protection of law,” wrote Roberto Lange, the chief judge for the U.S. District Court for the District of South Dakota.
But, he wrote on Wednesday, it would “be improper judicial activism for this Court to disregard settled law” for him to force the U.S. Parks Service to grant a permit for a July 4, 2021, show, as Noem demanded.
Noem blasted the ruling, again asserting that “The Biden Administration cancelled [sic] South Dakota’s Mount Rushmore Fireworks Celebration on completely arbitrary grounds,” and writing, “I am disappointed that the court gave cover to this unlawful action with today’s decision.” She vowed to appeal, in hopes of having fireworks next year.
The Park Service, part of the Department of the Interior, said in March that it would not grant a fireworks permit this year for South Dakota Department of Tourism for the Mount Rushmore National Memorial.
“Potential risks to the park itself and to the health and safety of employees and visitors associated with the fireworks demonstration continue to be a concern and are still being evaluated as a result of the 2020 event,” it explained. “In addition, the park’s many tribal partners expressly oppose fireworks at the Memorial.”
Fireworks had been banned at the national park between 2009 and 2019, due to objections from Native American tribes (on whose sacred lands the monument was built) and concerns about wildfires. In 2020, Donald Trump and his administration ignored those — and coronavirus safety measures — to hold a massive Independence Day fireworks show and political speech at the site.
Noem sued Interior Secretary Deb Haaland in April, demanding a permit and falsely claiming that it was a purely arbitrary decision not to give her one.
“There was no reason given as to why we can’t host the fireworks events. It wasn’t based on environmental issues, it wasn’t based on staffing issues or fire danger issues, it was just because they didn’t want us to have it,” she told reporters on May 3.
Just weeks before, Noem had declared “dangerous fire conditions” in the state.
Since becoming governor in January 2019, Noem has earned a national reputation for aggressively ignoring public health and safety.
She was one of the only governors who refused to issue any stay-at-home order as the COVID-19 pandemic hit her state in early 2020. As the situation worsened, she was also one of just a handful of governors who refused to issue any mask requirements. More than 120,000 of her constituents tested positive — nearly 15% of the state’s population.
In November, she railed against “absolutely false” claims by “some in the media” that her state had the highest number of new coronavirus cases per capita. At the time, her state had the second-highest number of new coronavirus cases per capita.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.
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