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2004-01-20

Scalia, Cheney Duck Hunting Trip Raises Doubts About Impartiality in Supreme Court Case

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Justice Antonin Scalia has not indicated whether he will pull out of an upcoming Supreme Court case involving Vice President Dick Cheney and his handling of the administration’s energy task force following reports the two recently went on a hunting trip together. [includes transcript]

Vice President Dick Cheney and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia spent part of last week duck hunting together at a private camp in southern Louisiana just three weeks after the Supreme Court agreed to take up Cheney’s appeal in lawsuits over his handling of the administration’s energy task force. Scalia has not yet indicated whether he will pull out.

Vice President Dick Cheney and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia spent part of last week duck hunting together at a private camp in southern Louisiana.

This may not seem strange given that Cheney and Scalia are avid hunters and longtime friends. But the buddy-hunting trip comes just three weeks after the Supreme Court agreed to take up Cheney’s appeal in lawsuits over his handling of the administration’s energy task force.

For nearly three years, Cheney has been fighting demands that he reveal whether he met with energy industry officials, including then-Enron Chairman Kenneth Lay, while he was formulating the president’s energy policy. A lower court ruled that Cheney must turn over documents detailing who met with his task force, but on Dec. 15, the high court announced it would hear his appeal.

Three weeks later, Cheney and Scalia arrive in Louisiana on Gulfstream jets to shoot ducks together. Federal laws dictate a judge or justice should remove himself from a case if there are questions about his or her fairness or impartiality.

Scalia has not yet indicated whether he will pull out of the case. He defended the hunting excursion in a written statement saying, "Social contacts with high-level executive officials have never been thought improper for judges who may have before them cases in which those people are involved in their official capacity, as opposed to their personal capacity."

The Los Angeles Times–which broke the story–reported that while the local police were told about Cheney’s trip shortly before his arrival, they were told to keep it a secret.

  • David Bookbinder, Washington legal director for the Sierra Club.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: David Bookbinder joins us now, Washington Legal Director for the Sierra Club. Welcome to Democracy Now!.

DAVID BOOKBINDER: Good Morning.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about Cheney, Scalia, duck hunting together?

DAVID BOOKBINDER: Well, I can’t really describe the duck hunting, although I believe Justice Scalia said it was not very good duck hunting. But, obviously, from the point of view of the American people, it raises questions about the propriety of Justice Scalia’s conduct. You don’t want to see the — one of the judges who is going to be hearing the case going off for several days of private chit-chat, conversation and hunting together with the Vice President. And there are two things that set this case apart from the ordinary one. First is, this is not the usual case where it is a lawsuit against the administration as a whole. This case involves the Vice President’s personal conduct; how he himself behaved, meetings that he had, whether or not he was responsible for not complying with the law, and so it’s not the usual sort of case. Vice President Cheney’s personal conduct is at issue. The second thing, and one of the most ironic, is that the duck hunting camp is owned by a man named Wallace Carline, who is one of the energy industry people who may be — who may have been given advice, or with whom Vice President Cheney may have been speaking while he was forming the nation’s energy policy. That’s the kind of ultimate irony. He is a man who has made his fortune in servicing offshore oil rigs. So It’s Scalia and Cheney at the estate of one of the energy barons, who may very well be involved in the entire case as well.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think Scalia, the Supreme Court Justice, expected that this would come out? And can you also talk about the Scalia family, a political family who — his sons are a part of the Bush Administration.

DAVID BOOKBINDER: Well, I don’t think that the administration or Justice Scalia expected word of this to get out. And it did trickle out very, very slowly. It was first picked up by a local press simply commenting on the fact that oh, God, the Vice President was down here duck hunting, and isn’t that exciting. It took a while before it percolated up to the level of people recognizing hold it, it’s not exactly proper to have the Vice President and Justice Scalia together at this time. As for Justice Scalia’s family, yes, one of his sons has a post within the administration, but that’s not something that, you know, has ever factored into our consideration of this.

AMY GOODMAN: Looking at "The Los Angeles Times" piece, it says, in October, Justice Scalia announced that he would not participate in the court’s handling of a case involving the pledge of allegiance. The case that stems from the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling two years ago that declared unconstitutional the use of the words, "under god in the pledge. Last year, Justice Scalia appeared to criticize that ruling in a speech at a religious freedom day event in Virginia saying that we could eliminate "under god" from the pledge of allegiance, that could be democratically done, but this is contrary to the wishes of most Americans, he said. So he has recused himself before.

DAVID BOOKBINDER: Yes, he has. And in that case, I would imagine he recused himself because it was pointed out to him that it appeared as if he had prejudged the merits of the case, in a public fashion. And he probably decided that it was best that he then not serve on the case. We have not called — yet called for Justice Scalia to recuse himself from this case. We’re still gathering additional information as to what happened, and consulting with local ethicists before we were to walk down that road.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, David Bookbinder, I want to thank you for being with us, of the Sierra Club, talking about the trip that Scalia and Cheney took together last week, to kill ducks in Louisiana. The question of Scalia, whether he will recuse himself from the case before him involving the Vice President and his Energy Task Force.

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