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FreedomWorks recently announced the launch of the American Freedom Initiative (AFI), a collaboration headed by former acting U.S. Attorney General Matt Whitaker. This project aims to help relieve injustices committed against Americans under the criminal justice system and the regulatory state. As part of this project, we will shine a spotlight on some of the individuals the AFI has identified under its Administrative Abuse Project who have been the victims of federal regulatory overreach.
To anyone who is familiar with American history, particularly the plight of the Native Americans, it should come as no surprise that the federal government is terrible at keeping promises. Time and time again, after recognizing a peoples’ right to property, the federal government has reneged on their promise. But this is not a phenomenon relegated to the history books. It is a continual problem for American landowners today.
One such family is the Ray family of Southwestern California. Way back in 1948, the Ray family staked a claim in the Mojave desert. There, they built a mining operation, extracting volcanic cinder used in construction and fertilizer. They named it the Cima Cinder Mine. For forty years, the family operated the mine, selling their volcanic cinder to Los Vegas and Los Angeles. In 1991, they realized that they should acquire the protection of a mineral patent and filed the application.
In 1994, Congress passed the California Desert Protection Act creating the Mojave National Preserve to be operated by the National Parks Service. Spanning 1,542,776 acres, Mojave became the third largest National Park in the country. Unfortunately for many like the Ray family, the National Parks Service -- and the Department of Interior in general -- has a history of steamrolling private landowners who suddenly find themselves at the mercy of the federal government.
An important caveat of the California Desert Protection Act was that all existing mineral patents for the preserved land had to be processed within 5 years of enactment. Mineral patents are applications that allow private individuals or firms to purchase public lands for use as mines or mill sites. The Ray’s application, filed four years prior to the enactment of the California Desert Protection Act, was never processed. Nearly 30 years later, the Ray family’s mineral patent remains in bureaucratic limbo.
The Department of Interior's failure to abide by statute, and total gross negligence, cost the Rays their family business. After failing to receive the rights to mine where their family had been mining for almost half a century, the Rays were forced off of the land in 1999, closing the mine forever.
Perhaps even more devastating, the government’s gross negligence left the Ray’s lacking any legal recourse. Due to the fact that the Department never processed their application, the Ray family couldn’t challenge the rejection of their application in court. When an application sits in a bureaucratic inbox, for practical legal purposes, it doesn’t exist. Even worse, the applicants can usually only petition the relevant agency regarding the status of their application, often without any leverage to impact the agency’s speed or decision. Fortunately for the Ray family, the Mountain States Legal Foundation has filed a writ of mandamus on their behalf. This writ, if accepted by the court, would force the government to finally process their backlogged application which would allow the Ray family to seek restitution in court.
It was President Theodore Roosevelt who said, “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.” Oftentimes, indecision is worse than a bad decision. This was the situation in the case of the Ray family.
The administrative process, by its very definition, is one of deliberation and decision. We endow our federal agencies with the responsibility of being fair arbiters of our laws. Yet, all too often, we find these agencies, who are supposed to be working for us, working against us using squirrely stall tactics and illegal procedures. It is crucial that we do what we can when we see these abuses to prevent more Americans from being abused like the Ray family.