Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Ten years ago today: An important US Supreme Court decision

It has been ten years since the United States Supreme Court decided that the Bush/Cheney White House could continue to refuse to release records of Vice President Dick Cheney's meetings with energy executives three years earlier (the Energy Task Force convened only a few weeks after he took office), in the formulation of the national energy strategy.  It is quite possible that those secret meetings between the government and energy executives may have led to war with Iraq, as war with Iraq became an early focus of the Bush Administration.

That Supreme Court case came from a suit filed under Freedom of Information Act in 2001 by Judicial Watch, seeking to have the records of those secret meetings made public.  The White House asserted "executive privilege" to keep the public from seeing those records.  Judicial Watch, incidentally, is a conservative government watchdog group.  Those Freedom of Information Act requests were denied Judicial Watch.  In July 2002, a D.C. district judge ruled (against Dick Cheney) that Judicial Watch had a right to know whether "private citizens" had unduly influence federal energy policies. That judge ordered Cheney to turn over the records of what happened in those secret meetings.  Cheney refused, appealing this decision to the Court of Appeals for the D.C. That Court of Appeals also ruled against Cheney and ordered him to turn over the information. Cheney again refused, appealing the case to the US Supreme Court.

On June 24, 2004, In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the lower appeals court had acted "prematurely" and sent the case back to the lower appeals court, essentially having ruled in Cheney's favor.

Actually, it didn't appear that the White House was deliberately trying to conceal the truth about those secret meetings until it was learned that while the case was being heard in the DC Appeals Court, Cheney flew one of the 9 Supreme Court justices (Antonin Scalia) on a government jet to Louisiana for a duck hunt at a private hunting club owned by an oil rig services executive. Very remote, very private ... what did Vice-President Cheney and Justice Scalia discuss there?  We will, of course, never know.  Another one for the memory hole. We just know that, in the end, of course, Justice Scalia voted in Cheney's favor.

The duck hunting trip brought a lot of press attention to the Supreme Court case, especially when Antonin Scalia refused to recuse himself from the case. Scalia filed a lengthy statement explaining why he was not recusing himself but when confronted with the question (did anything improper happen on that hunting trip?), Justice Scalia countered with the statement, "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."

"Deep trouble" indeed.  Analyze Scalia's statement.  No one was making an accusation that the hunting trip was offered as a bribe.   He was not being asked about bribery, he was being questioned about whether his close association with the subject of a major Supreme Court case (VP Cheney) was improper, and was just cause for him to recuse himself from that case.  Scalia, himself, was the only one who mentioned "bribery", and he did it to put up a smokescreen. He tried to change the subject, offering a defense to an allegation that was never made. He was never accused of "taking a bribe."  He was being questioned about the impropriety of holding secret meetings with the subject of a very important legal case he knew he was going to hear.  He was being questioned about a possible conflict of interest ... and he side-stepped the question.

Why?  Was he hiding something?  No one knows ... maybe it just "looks like it."  We'll never know the truth.

Why was that Supreme Court decision significant? Because what the Court decided was that Americans would have a government that works behind closed doors, in secret, and not even subject to scrutiny by the elected representatives of the people in the government of the United States ... Congress.

And that is the way it is; and that is the way it will remain.