James A. Redden, longtime Oregon politician and judge, passes away at 91
Former and well-known Oregon politician and retired U.S. District Court Judge James A. Redden has died at age 91.
Redden passed away on Tuesday, March 31, at an adult foster care home where he had been living. He was being treated for congestive heart failure.
Redden is perhaps best known today as the federal judge who repeatedly ordered the Bonneville Power Administration to rewrite its plans to protect Columbia River salmon by complying with the U.S. Endangered Species Act. His rulings in the so-called Salmon Case were widely covered by the national news media, environmental publications and legal journals.
Before that, Redden, a Democrat, served on the Oregon House of Representatives from Southern Oregon during the 1963, '65 and '67 sessions of the Oregon Legislature. He was elected House Minority Leader by his Democratic colleagues during the 1967 session.
As a legislator, Redden was known for his sense of humor and ability to work with both parties. He and the late Republican State Sen. Lee Johnson of Portland worked with then-Oregon Gov. Tom McCall to write and pass the Beach Bill, which preserved Oregon's beaches for the public.
After that, Redden was elected State Treasurer in 1972. He was picked by Democratic activists at a convention to replace nominee Alice Corbett, whom a court ruled off the ballot for violating state elections laws. Redden defeated Republican Craig Berkman during a brief campaign.
Redden was elected Oregon Attorney General in 1976.
The only time Redden lost an election was in 1974 when he was finished third behind former State Treasurer Bob Straub and then-State Sen. Betty Roberts of Portland in the Democratic primary election for Oregon governor. Straub went on to win and served one term.
"He would have been a great governor," former Gov. Ted Kulongoski said Wednesday. "He had all the skills of an Irish politician from Boston. He just happened to live in Oregon — and he never forgot where he came from."
Redden had an affectionate nickname for Kulongoski: "Teddy the K."
Kulongoski made his own bid for governor in 1982 but lost. He won 20 years later.
Redden was nominated to a new seat on the United States District Court for the District of Oregon by President Jimmy Carter on Dec. 3, 1979. He was confirmed by the United States Senate and received his commission on Feb. 20, 1980. Redden served as chief judge from 1990 to 1995 and then assumed senior status on March 13, 1995.
Started in 2003, Redden rejected two Columbia River management plans proposed by the federal government on the grounds that they failed to protect various species of salmon, as required by the Endangered Species Act. He also suggested that, if the Bush administration failed to address the salmon issue adequately, management of the hydroelectric dams in the region could fall to the courts. Redden removed himself from the case in Nov. 2011, prior to a new plan being presented by the government in 2014.
Redden was the third child born to James A. Redden Sr., a dentist, and his wife, Alma. He was born March 13, 1929, in Springfield, Massachusetts. During what he would later describe as a "mediocre" high school career, Redden enlisted in the United States Army in 1946, served two years as a medic in post-WWII Japan.
Redden married Joan Johnson in 1951 and took several low-paying jobs before belatedly earning a high school diploma. He attended Boston College and Boston College Law School, graduating with a bachelor of laws in 1954, and was admitted to the Massachusetts bar the same year.
Following the advice of a law school professor, Redden moved his family to Portland in 1955, where he believed there were more opportunities for young lawyers. After passing the Oregon State Bar Exam, he found a position in a law firm in Medford, where he built a practice over the next 17 years while also being active in the Jackson County Democratic Party before first running for office.
Joan Redden passed away in 2018. James Redden is survived by his sister M'lou Thompson of Portland and his two sons, James A. Redden III and William Francis Redden.
Many of Redden's public records, as well as a recorded personal history, are available at the Oregon Historical Society.
Because of health concerns, a public service will be held after restrictions on gatherings are lifted. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to Housecall Providers.
James A. Redden III is a reporter for the Portland Tribune, a publication of Pamplin Media Group.
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