U.S. Senator Robert Byrd, ardent critic of President Bush’s decision to go to war with Iraq, outspoken opponent of the administration’s domestic-spying program and chief Congressional challenger of White House moves to undermine the system of checks and balances, will on June 12 become the longest serving senator in history.

Of the 1,885 members of the upper chamnber of the Congress who have served since its first sitting in 1789, Byrd will hold the record for the time served.

But at 88, Byrd rests on no laurels.

Despite the regular battering he takes from conservative talk-radio and television hosts — who delight in dredging up his brief association with the Ku Klux Klan more than six decades ago but conveniently fail to note that the senator has apologized repeatedly for his error and now wins overwhelming support from African-American voters in West Virginia — and despite the fact that he has been targeted for defeat by White House political czar Karl Rove and the rest of the Republican attack machine, Byrd is seeking a record ninth term in the Senate.

In classic Byrd fashion, he is highlighting his dissents against the administration. The senator’s , campaign website features at its top a petition demanding an investigation of the president’s authorization of warrantless wiretaps. It reads:

The United States Constitution has served this country for more than 200 years. Our system of checks and balances ensures that our freedoms are protected.

There is evidence that the Bush Administration may have broken the law, and most certainly has violated the spirit of the Constitution, and the public trust by spying on American citizens without a court order.

We, the undersigned, believe that no President is above the law. We demand a Constitutional check on the Administration’s illegal wiretapping. We join Senator Byrd in calling for a nonpartisan, independent commission to investigate and determine the legality of the President’s actions.

The Constitution is the people’s shield — a shield of liberty — and we must not let that shield turn to rust.

Next to the petition is an image of the senator holding a copy of the Constitution and a promise from Byrd to uphold it.

Would that other senators — including Byrd’s fellow Democrats — would choose to seek reelection on a promise to defend basic liberties.

Perhaps they would do as well as Byrd did in Tuesday’s Democratic primary in West Virginia.

He won 86 percent of the vote.

The senator will face a tougher race in the fall, against a millionaire Republican opponent. But, as the Charleston Gazette newspaper explained in an editorial endorsing Byrd: “No political challenger can rise as high as his ankles.”

Why? In addition to championing his state’s interests with an aggressiveness unequaled in the Senate, the Gazette’s editors noted:

Here’s another reason to hold Byrd in high esteem: He was almost the only member of Congress who had courage enough to oppose President Bush’s plunge into the unnecessary Iraq war. While other national Democrats timidly succumbed to the war cry — fearing they would be labeled unpatriotic if they didn’t — Byrd protested that the invasion was needless.

History proved him wiser than the rest of Congress. All the purported reasons for the war evaporated. Byrd’s Senate speeches were distributed literally to millions around the world, and were incorporated in his book, Losing America: Confronting a Reckless and Arrogant Presidency.

Especially, Byrd is a champion of America’s system of checks and balances, the separation of powers envisioned by the nation’s founders. He fights endlessly to prevent the president from growing so powerful that Congress and the Supreme Court are reduced to puppets.