Critics of World War II Memorial go back to court (Associated Press)

By David Ho, Associated Press

Opponents of a planned World War II Memorial on the National Mall asked a federal judge on Monday to prevent planners from signing construction contracts until the court hears a lawsuit to stop the project.

President Bush signed legislation last week that places planning for the memorial outside the normal regulatory process, an effort to end lawsuits and procedural delays.

The National Coalition to Save Our Mall said in its request for a restraining order that the new law violates the Constitution by overriding the review process in the courts.

“Congress and the president have dictated that the World War II Memorial is now above the law,” said Judy Scott Feldman, co-chair of the coalition. “We are now going to the third branch of government to ask the court’s intercession.”

The government could begin authorizing construction contracts with builders as early as Wednesday, according to the coalition’s request, which was filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The group wants time to have a hearing on the lawsuit it filed in February to block the project.

The government wouldn’t comment on the request for a restraining order, but will respond in court once a hearing is scheduled, Justice Department spokeswoman Christine Romano said.

Mike Conley, spokesman for the American Battle Monuments Commission, said the actions of Congress and the president are “the best reflection of the mood of the county.”

The memorial, to be located between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument, is to be built around the existing Rainbow Pool, with a circle of granite pillars representing the states and two four-story arches to signify victory in Europe and Asia.

Critics, including some veterans, have said the design is too grandiose and would clutter the Mall and obstruct the sweeping views.

George Idelson, 76, a World War II veteran, said at a news conference on the planned site of the memorial that he was “deeply offended by the way the planners ran roughshod over the system.”

But many veterans groups support the memorial. The American Legion, the nation’s largest veterans organization, has contributed $4 million for the project, said spokesman Steve Thomas.

“We wanted a first rate memorial at a first class location,” he said. “Clearly this memorial as approved represents the will of the people and it should be built.”

Feldman said one solution to the dispute would be to move the memorial about 100 feet north from the center of the Mall, removing it from the sight line between the two existing monuments.

Veterans opposed to the memorial say that the rush to build it while they’re alive is selfish and that the government should have let the legal process continue.

“This was a serious violation of what we fought for freedom under the law,” said George Peabody, a 79-year-old World War II veteran.