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Wildlife advocates went to federal court Tuesday to challenge a move by Congress that stripped endangered species status from more than 1,300 gray wolves across five states in the Northern Rockies.
The two-hour hearing before U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy in Missoula came as Idaho and Montana prepare for fall hunts in which hundreds of wolves could be killed.
Courtroom observers said Molloy pledged Tuesday to quickly issue his order deciding the case.
Molloy has twice blocked prior attempts to lift protections for the predators. This time around, he is considering whether Congress violated the separation of powers under the U.S. Constitution with legislation crafted to circumvent his earlier rulings.
Congress approved a budget bill in April that contained a provision targeting wolves. The provision was inserted by two Western lawmakers, Republican Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho and Democratic Sen. Jon Tester of Montana.
Signed into law by President Barack Obama, the measure marked the first time since the passage of the Endangered Species Act in 1973 that Congress forcibly removed protections from a plant or animal.
Several conservation and environmental groups filed suit in May.
They said Congress crossed the divide that separates the
branches of the federal government by getting involved in a pending legal case instead of sticking to its role of making law. The groups cited Tester's comments in media interviews during the budget bill debate that he was not amending the endangered act itself.
Department of Justice attorneys argued Congress acted within its constitutional authority.
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