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Court tosses Gov. Kristi Noem's Mount Rushmore fireworks appeal

The appeal, which sought a ruling undermining the power of the National Park Service to issue permits as it sees fit, was dismissed by the Eighth Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals on July 27.

Fireworks shoot off during the Mount Rushmore Fourth of July celebration on July 3, 2020, in Keystone, South Dakota.
Matt Gade / Republic
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — An appeal by Gov. Kristi Noem challenging the constitutionality of last year’s decision by the National Park Service to prohibit fireworks at Mount Rushmore has been thrown out by the Eighth Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals.

In addition to the constitutional challenge, the appeal sought injunctive relief which, if granted in a timely manner, would have restrained enforcement of the decision by the Park Service. Writing in an eight-page opinion released Wednesday, July 27, Judge David Stras tossed aside the relief question as no longer relevant.

“Time machines aside, to now order the Park Service to reconsider its decision to deny a permit for an event more than a year in the past would be the very definition of ‘ineffectual relief,’” Stras wrote in the opinion. Stras was appointed to the Eighth Circuit in 2017 by President Donald Trump.

The South Dakota governor has released her autobiography, “Not My First Rodeo: Lessons from the Heartland."

Noem’s lawyers argued that the state would continue applying for a permit each year and, because of this, would be engaged in similar disputes in the future. However, the court ruled that the circumstances of the expected denial would be different, if only slightly, each time, requiring a new challenge.

The Court of Appeals more closely considered the question of constitutionality, in which the state argued that the entire permitting process controlled by the Park Service was an unconstitutional delegation of legislative power.


However, Stras explained that doing away with this permitting system would make it “harder, not easier” to hold the event, as nothing could change the fact that a fireworks display at Mount Rushmore would occur on the grounds of a national park, putting it under the control of the federal government.

Seventeen other states filed a joint brief supporting the challenge of the ruling by the Park Service, claiming they had interest in ensuring that the Department of the Interior, which contains the Park Service, “makes reasoned permitting decisions more generally.”

After heading to Rapid City for the debate, Gov. Kristi Noem left the state for a campaign event with gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake in Arizona. The move drew criticism from some who pointed to Noem's implication in September that recovery from back surgery would curtail her ability to travel for several months.

Jason Harward is a Report for America corps reporter who writes about state politics in South Dakota. Contact him at 605-301-0496 or jharward@forumcomm.com.

Jason Harward covers South Dakota news for Forum News Service. Email him at jharward@forumcomm.com.
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