Another Death Nail for Democracy Kills 1700 Endangered Wolves:By: Brett Redmayne-Titley
With a stroke of the presidential pen 1700 wolves were sentenced to die. Never mind that these same wolves have been brought back from regional extinction due to forty years of dedicated work by conservationists. For the sake of just two congressional votes, President Obama was willing to allow the slaughter of a species. The manner in which, for the first time, this nefarious legislation was slide through should send a dire warning to all who value the remnants of our constitution.
The wolf has for centuries been unfairly demonized by the ranchers and cattlemen of the midwest including Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. Due to legislation in the 1800’s and 1900’s bounties were introduced that literally wiped the North American wolves from the mid-western landscape. By the 1920s, not a wolf howl was heard south of the Canadian border in these parts of the country.
Similarly, just fifty odd years before these same ranchers had also eradicated the American Indian.
But legislation to protect and reintroduce the wolf to these areas came in the form of the Endangered Species Act. (7 U.S.C. § 136, 16 U.S.C. § 1531) This Act is Federal legislation passed by Congress in 1973 and signed by Richard Nixon. The Act allowed for the protection of individual species from development, construction, public works, and evil ranchers.
Over the years the Endangered Species Act has been despised by developers, business entities, and ranchers since it has been an effective “trump card” for environmentalists. Merely to be considered for permits this Act caused exhaustive and expensive studies by any business wishing to move into the breeding grounds or habitats of threatened species. And if that business could not establish that it created little impact then no permit to build was issued. This caused huge, lengthy, and very acrimonious lawsuits between big business and environmentalists. Thanks to the Endangered Species Act environmentalists had big business well in hand. From the Delta Smelt to the Least Tern, from the Snail Darter to the Wolf, the Endangered Species Act has been reviled by big business. Their frustrations have again risen and they have created a cunning new method for by-passing the Endangered Species Act and the Constitution. Eliminate the courts.
It would be nice to still consider the constitutional checks and balances of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches to be effective, but these have been eroded during recent presidencies to, now, be effectively moot. With an administration that has no courage of its conviction but desperate for a showing of success, a Congress continually ignoring the will of the voters, and a judiciary in the bag (see: Justice Steven’s dissenting opinion, re: Citizens United.) you would think that new levels of cunning would not be needed. But here is where a new danger lies. The lobbyists have now by-passed all three branches of government and their inherent checks and balances as required by the Constitution. Review by the courts has been mandated away.
Conveniently buried in the exigent circumstances of the recent federal budget battle was a rider or attachment to that budget. The rider took away protections for the Wolf by requiring only the wolf to be delisted from the Endangered Species Act within 60 days. This means that the ranchers are then free to reap slaughter on the defenseless animals.
“Zero “, boasts Ron Gillett, spokesman for the Idaho Anti-Wolf Coalition, when asked in an LA Times article how many wolves should be spared. Gillett further stated, his reason for killing wolves was that the wolves were killing elk before he was able to do so. Therefore, he and the rest of the Idaho ranchers needed to kill all the wolves, so they could kill more elk. Hmmm.
Gillett failed to note that, unlike the ranchers, wolves kill a smaller percentage of the elk population, do so only to eat, and kill only when hungry and/or in need of feeding their pack. Additionally, ranchers are reimbursed the full adult at-market value for any cattle or livestock killed by wolves even if it is a calf or a yearling.
The rancher’s saviour, however, came in the form of a desperate and pliable president, two loyal wolf hating congressman, and the best friend of desperate presidents and greedy senators; the rider.
Riders, attachments, and /or earmarks need to be properly viewed as what they are; underhanded circumventions of democracy. The use of riders has grown almost exponentially in recent presidencies. Rarely do they have any relevance to the legislation they are attached to right before a presidential signature. What do wolves have to do with a federal budget? Since these riders are not subject to the process of the legislature they amount to the side deal between the individual legislators and a president, usually on behalf of some special interest alone.
Repeatedly this administration has found itself painted into a corner on passing any meaningful legislation. Notable examples have been Health Care, the Finance Reform Bill, extension of the Bush tax cuts, ”Don’t Ask; Don’t Tell”, and the past Federal Budget crisis. In all of these cases Obama was committed to passing these bills despite Republican opposition but without any political capital of his own the rider has been our president’s only method to, one-by-one, get needed votes.
And the price of the mortita has been steep. With respect to the last budget the GOP included riders seeking to ban federal funding for Planned Parenthood ,block Environmental Protection Agency efforts to regulate greenhouse gases and hamstring the implementation of Democrats’ recent legislative achievements, including a new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and health care reform law. Several made the cut. The remainder will be back by Aug 2.
The dirty deal that will kill 1700 wolves came from the result of a desperate president, hungry to pass any federal budget, and two congressmen who well understood his weakness. With time running out to effect a budget-pleasing to Republicans president Obama sat just a few votes short. Senator Jon Tester (D-Mont ) and Rep. Mike Simpson ( R-Idaho) were obviously mindful of previous gifts from Obama to their other congressional brethren. In exchange for votes on his
healthcare bill Obama had given Nebraska preferential deals and to pass the Finance Reform bill even democrats got a great deal. These two congressmen played their cards, and their president, once it was obvious Obama was now, “all in” on his proposed budget. And the price for seeing their cards, i.e. their vote, was to de-list only wolves from the Endangered Species Act.
Few congressmen knew of this rider and the ones who were approached to vote against it could not do so as this would have been a vote against the emergency budget.
But that was not good enough for Sen. Tester and Rep. Simpson. They knew that their last-minute extortion was worthless without a new, and constitutionally horrifying, trick.
For years environmentalists had used the courts, and the Endangered Species Act, to obtain restraining orders against dozens of businesses and corporate projects that threatened endangered species such as the Wolf. Since the Endangered Species Act is federal legislation it supersedes all state and local environmental laws. With these species being a financial burden, and often a restriction to big business as usual, it was the courts that were literally their savior in many cases. Tester and Simpson knew this well. And they had the answer.
Never before has a piece of federal legislation been outside the review of the courts. The constitutional checks and balances include the judiciary for obvious reasons. Sadly, these reasons were lost on our constitutional scholar president because, for perhaps the first time in history, this legislation specifically prevented any intervention by the courts.
Defenders of Wildlife, is an environmental group that portends to defend, among other species, the wolf. When contacted about this rider and its circumvention of the courts their representative explained that they had consulted with their chief legal counsel and that their opinion was that “there was no point in filing a (court) challenge”.
So to review; A special-interest, the wolf killing ranchers, used their lobbying efforts to get their representatives, Senator Tester and Rep. Simpson to strong-arm the president, due to exigent circumstances, into bypassing the Congress, and the courts, and their constitutionally required checks and balances. The president gives a gift to two senators, gets his needed votes, and throws the entire intent of the Constitution and the lives of 1700 wolves to the same fate as habeas corpus.
By extension is this not a shocking example of America’s decline into an oligarchy, kingdom, or sadly, dictatorship? Using the example of the wolves: where is democracy or the Constitution still in effect? And doesn’t this send a dire warning about potential rider legislation that the lobbyists wish to pass despite the will of the voters or Congress? Or the courts?
Pick any divisive partisan issue, and there is much to worry about. From “Don’t Ask; Don’t Tell” to Medicare; from the Patriot Act to Social Security, consider what will
happen if relief in the courts is no longer possible. The wolves had no voice to be heard by Congress. Is not the voice of the American voter just as moot? Few would argue that both houses of Congress are not beholden to big business and their lobbyists who both care not for the will of the voter. With this being the case is not the voter as silent as the wolves? Without the ability to turn to the courts the voter is indeed silenced and the forces of big business free to assail the Endangered Species Act, civil liberties, religious freedoms, social programs, and wolves.
Due to their success in killing wolves certainly big business, and their lobbyists, will try this again. With the federal budgetary sword of Damocles getting closer to he August 2 deadline Obama has given his adversaries and their assault on democracy, a new tool. What will be the next rider that is beyond judicial review?
With exigent circumstances looming again it is now just a matter of which constituent group suffers the next backdoor last minute deal in the name of saving the economy or some other emergency. Without the ability to fight onerous legislation in the courts Riders now have the same effect as Royal proclamations and central committee dictates. Will you be the next silent voice to be separated from our government?
Coming summers will be quiet at night from now on in Idaho and Montana. The beautiful howl of the wolf will again be absent from these natural surroundings. In that silence perhaps one may take pause to ponder; As went the wolf, so went democracy.