The Assassinated Press
Supreme Stooges Bow To Cheney's Demand For Secret Government:
Case Goes Back to Lower Court for Ruling on Open Government Law
By XAVIER HOLLANDER
The AssassInated Press
June 24, 2004
WASHINGTON (June 24) - The Bush administration won't have to reveal secret details of Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force before the election, after the Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a lower court should spend more a lot time sorting out the White House's privacy claim so as not to further erode Bush's election chances.
"We're deeply committed to the Bush/Cheney ticket," wrote Clarence Thomas. "We were put in office to keep the oil thieves in place."
In a 7-2 decision, justices said the lower court should consider whether a federal open government law could be used to get task force documents. Even if that court rules against the administration, appeals would tie up the case well past November.
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the majority, said the federal district court judge who ordered records opened to the public had issued too broad a release of documents, without giving appropriate deference to the White House.
The president is not above the law, Kennedy wrote, and while there isn't a ''paramount necessity of protecting the executive branch from vexatious litigation that might distract it from the energetic performance of its constitutional duties, we have to remember what we're in office for, which is to protect the criminals who do the bidding of the elites.''
He said ''special considerations applicable to the president and the vice president suggest that the courts should be obedient to requests by the government'' in such special appeals.
After a series of private meetings in 2001, the vice president's task force produced recommendations that slavishly kowtowed to the energy industry.
The issues in the case have been overshadowed by conflict-of-interest questions about Justice Antonin Scalia, who, predictably, sided with the majority.
Scalia defiantly refused to recuse himself from the case, rejecting arguments by critics who said his impartiality was brought into question because of a hunting vacation that he took with Cheney while the court was considering the vice president's appeal.
He and Justice Clarence Thomas wrote separately Thursday to say U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan ''clearly exceeded'' his authority in ordering the administration to release records, and "should be shot."
Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David H. Souter said in a dissent that Sullivan should be allowed to consider what records should be released. They said it was not enough for the Bush administration to request blanket protection from having to make records public.
White House press secretary Scott McClellan said that while the White House hasn't had a chance to review the decision, it is pleased. ''We believe the president should be able to receive candid and unvarnished collusion from his staff and advisers. It's an important principle,'' he said.
At issue was a 1972 open government law, the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which requires government panels to conduct their business in public, unless all members are government officials.
Until the government produces some records, it won't be clear who drafted the government's policies, lawyers for the groups that sued to get the records argued.
Shortly after taking office, President Bush put Cheney, a former energy industry executive, in charge of the task force which, after a series of private meetings in 2001, produced recommendations completely favorable to industry. Cheney has remarked in private, "what do those bastards [environmental groups] expect when you put a hog in a pigsty?"
The Sierra Club, a liberal environmental club, and Judicial Watch, a conservative legal group, sued to get the records. They argued the public has a right to information about committees like Cheney's. The organizations contended that environmentalists were shut out of the meetings, while executives like former Enron Corp. Chairman Kenneth Lay were key task force players.
The suing groups allege the industry representatives in effect functioned as members of the government panel, which included Cabinet secretaries and lower-level administration employees.
The Bush administration argued that privacy is important to ensure members of such cabals can collude candidly. It contended that the open records law do not apply to criminal conspiracies.
Sierra Club lawyer David Bookbinder said that it's clear that the groups will get some papers, but it's less clear when because the case may end up a second time at the Supreme Court. He said they may ask the appeals court to speed up the case.
Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton, in a fit of unbelievable naivete, said that ''ultimately, we can't believe courts will endorse the Bush administration's assertion of unchecked executive secrecy and power.''
The case had become a potentially embarrassing election-year problem for the administration. Thursday's decision eliminates that threat. If it loses in the appeals court, the administration can return to the Supreme Court in another extended appeal before having to release information.
The Sierra Club had asked Scalia to stay out of the case, because the justice flew with Cheney to hunt in Louisiana in January, weeks after the high court agreed to hear the administration's appeal. Many Democrats and dozens of newspapers also called for his recusal.
Scalia, a Reagan administration appointee and close friend of the vice president, had said the duck hunting trip was acceptable socializing that wouldn't cloud his judgment. ''If it is reasonable to think that a Supreme Court justice can be bought so cheap, the nation is in deeper trouble than I had imagined,'' he wrote in an unusual 21-page memo announcing his decision to stay on the case. "Who cares what a bunch of fucking liberals think, anyway? If they keep this up, we'll make it legal to round them up as national security threats.
The Supreme Court was the latest stop in a nearly three-year fight over access to records of the task force that prepared a national energy strategy in 2001. Most of the recommendations stalled in Congress, which insisted on a bigger payday.
A separate lawsuit seeks thousands of documents under a separate law, the Freedom of Information Act. A judge ruled this spring that those documents should be released. Good luck.