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Federal judges provide balance

Recent environmental rulings reflect the founders' wisdom

A recent trend highlights the desirability of preserving equilibrium of power between the president and the courts.

In the past several weeks, a series of decisions have illuminated the extent to which the Bush administration is ignoring its constitutional obligation to enforce all laws, especially those with which it disagrees politically.

It is no surprise to those who follow Pacific Northwest fisheries that U. S. District Judge James A. Redden is at the forefront of those who find the administration's behavior reprehensible. Faced with foot-dragging on a grand scale by federal agencies attempting to dodge their responsibilities for salmon protected by the Endangered Species Act, Redden's language has grown increasingly sharp.

Agencies "have repeatedly and collectively failed to demonstrate a willingness to do what is necessary" to comply with the ESA, Redden wrote.

A federal magistrate restored much of the Clinton-era roadless protections for national forests after Bush officials failed to provide any new evidence to support their position. Other judges have lambasted the administration for a variety of other natural resources stances, including timber harvests that "trampled" environmental laws.

There are those who will attack all this as judicial activism, but these decisions are nothing of the kind. Rather, they reflect judges' legitimate interest in making certain that agencies play by the rules enacted by Congress.

It's notable that many of the rulings adverse to the administration have come from judges appointed by earlier presidents. With lifetime appointments to the bench, federal judges were intended by our nation's founders to restrain excessive swings from one administration to the next. Our laws are our laws, no matter who occupies the Oval Office.

Too few voters factor the control of federal courts into their selections for U.S. Senate, the body that confirms or denies appointments. As the Bush administration nears its end in two years, returning the Senate to Democratic control would help insure long-term balance in the federal courts.