Justices to consider spotted owl case

June 29, 1991|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court agreed yesterday to consider a plea to revive a congressional plan to save -- at the same time -- the northern spotted owl and the jobs of lumber workers in the Pacific Northwest.

In a brief order issued before the justices began their summer recess, the court granted a hearing to the federal government on its anxious plea that a "timber crisis" was looming as a result of a lower federal court ruling.

Last September, a federal appeals court ruled that Congress had acted unconstitutionally in 1989 when it enacted the "Northwest Timber Compromise" -- a multifaceted plan to control logging in the habitats of an endangered species, the northern spotted owl.

Under the compromise, which was pressed by Pacific Northwest members of Congress, the government was given orders to sell specific amounts of timber from national forests and public lands, to keep the lumber industry in the area going.

The plan also has specific controls on areas of timber harvest in order to protect the spotted owl, which was put on the official endangered list last year.

But there is another part of the plan that brought its downfall in court: Congress told a federal court, with some specificity, exactly how it expected it to decide two pending lawsuits over logging and the threat to owl habitats.

Congress, the appeals court said, does not have the power to tell courts how to decide pending cases. So, it struck down the entire plan.

In another action yesterday, the court left intact, without comment, a decision by a Florida official granting disability benefits to a woman who, as a result of a mugging while she was at work, is afraid to go out of her home because of a fear that she will encounter black males.

The woman was granted disability status after doctors said the mugging incident had produced a "post-traumatic stress disorder."

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