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Commentaries and editorials

Supreme Court takes
Cheney Energy Task Force Case

by Susan Cornwell, Reuters
Environmental News Network, December 16, 2003

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court said Monday it would decide whether Vice President Dick Cheney must release White House papers about the energy policy task force he headed two years ago.

The high court agreed to hear an appeal from Cheney, who is resisting a federal judge's order to produce documents about White House contacts with the energy industry in 2001.

Cheney's Justice Department lawyers say he is immune to the court order on grounds of a constitutional separation of powers.

The environmentalist Sierra Club and Judicial Watch government watchdog group sued in 2001 to find out the names and positions of members of the energy task force led by the vice president that year.

They allege that Cheney, a former energy company executive, drafted energy policy by consulting industry executives including Enron Corp.'s Ken Lay, making them effective members of his task force while leaving environmentalists on the outside.

Cheney was chief executive of energy and construction company Halliburton Co. from 1995 to 2000. His 2001 energy task force produced a policy paper calling for more oil and gas drilling and a revived nuclear power program.

Cheney has acknowledged meeting Lay, whose company collapsed in late 2001, but his lawyers say the task force was comprised of government officials, not corporate chieftains.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case in spring 2004, with a decision due by the end of June.

Justice Department spokesman Mark Corallo said the administration was pleased the Supreme Court took the case, saying the issues involved were "critical" to the effective functioning of the president and vice president.

The administration has already produced 36,000 pages of documents on the development of the energy plan, Corallo said. "To allow further discovery into the advice provided by the president's closest advisers would upset the ability of the president and vice president to effectively develop strong national policy," he said.

'Deference' to executive branch

The Environmental Protection Agency, Energy Department, and other agencies have turned over thousands of pages of documents in the case, but none have come from the White House.

Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said the court's decision to take the case was not surprising "because the executive branch is often given deference." But he said he was confident those suing for the information would get it.

Sierra Club attorney David Bookbinder said the court's taking the case "will draw attention to the extreme positions the Bush administration has taken, essentially arguing that they are above the law."

Over a year ago, U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan ordered the White House to either produce documents about the energy task force, or provide a detailed list of the documents it was withholding, and why.

The Bush administration appealed the order, even though the case was not completed in the lower court.

The U.S. Court of Appeals earlier this year refused to step in, saying Cheney did not have legal standing to refuse the judge's order.

Justice Department lawyers argued that judicial power cannot extend to ordering the executive branch to disclose details about the way the president gets advice such as advice on energy policy.

Judicial Watch countered that Cheney's claims to immunity were laughable after a 1997 Supreme Court decision that discovery could proceed against then-President Clinton in a case brought by sexual-harassment accuser Paula Jones.

Related Pages:
Judge Scolds Cheney Lawyers in Energy Case by Susan Cornwell, 4/18/3
Suit Versus Cheney Is Dismissed by Neely Tucker, Washington Post, 12/10/2
Enron Met 6 Times with Cheney or His Staff by Reuters, 1/9/2
U.S. Court Denies Cheney Appeal on Energy Papers by Susan Cornwell, 7/9/3

Susan Cornwell, Reuters
Supreme Court takes Cheney Energy Task Force Case
Environmental News Network, December 16, 2003

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