Some members of Congress breathed a sigh of relief when Attorney General Edwin Meese III stepped down this month after 31/2 years as the United States attorney general. Others would have been glad to keep him in office as a convenient whipping boy.

The attorney general's term was marked by controversy, including clashes between Meese and Congress, and two investigations into his affairs by special prosecutors.Neither investigation produced evidence of criminal activity, at least not enough to file any charges, according to the two special prosecutors who were appointed to look into Meese's legal and personal activities.

But those two investigations rankled Meese, whose relationship with Congress was never very good and which deteriorated badly toward the end of his tenure, with certain senators and representatives aggressively calling for at least his resignation and at most his prosecution.

So, an hour before his term ended, Meese announced he had signed an order extending the use of special prosecutors to include investigation of members of Congress when the attorney general deems it necessary.

Meese said he did it because it puts all government officials on an equal footing and removes the specter of any investigation being politically motivated - the same arguments used to have special prosecutors investigate the executive branch.

Congress, however - at least some of the congressmen that had tangled with the attorney general - howled that Meese was taking a last shot at them, was giving them one final slap before walking out the door.

While that may be true to some extent, it's hard to fault Meese's reasoning: "I think that having all high officials covered by the same general procedure makes good sense."

That is clearly true. And, it certainly won't hurt Congress. As has been noted before, Congress has a way of setting standards for everyone but itself, exempting itself from minimum wage, workplace safety and health, and even anti-discrimination laws they believe the rest of us need.

Meese's last act may have cracked the shell, the invisible bubble Congress has erected that isolates it from the rest of the working world. Now if a few more of those exemptions can be whittled away, we'll all be on an equal footing.