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Wednesday, April 28, 2004 FULL SHOW | HEADLINES | PREVIOUS: Damascus Gunbattle Kills Four After Bombing In...
2004-04-28

Cheney Secrecy Case: Is the Supreme Court Allowing the US to Turn Into an Elected Dictatorship?

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The Supreme Court hinted yesterday it will allow Vice President Dick Cheney to keep secret papers from his energy task force. In yesterday’s New York Times Paul Krugman argued this would mean the Bush administration has cretaed an "elected dictatorship: a system in which the president, once in office, can do whatever he likes, and isn’t obliged to consult or inform either Congress or the public." [includes rush transcript]

The Supreme Court heard long-awaited arguments yesterday on a White House effort to keep private the records of Vice President Dick Cheney’s energy task force, which developed the administration’s energy policies in 2001.

Three years ago the groups Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club sued for the right to make public the notes from the group’s meetings but the Bush administration has refused to despite orders from lower federal judges.

The groups contend that Cheney’s task force was not a purely governmental body but took heavy input from energy-industry lobbyists who were deeply involved in formulating federal policy and therefore must disclose its deliberations.

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman writes: "Cheney’s determination to keep his secrets probably reflects more than an effort to avoid bad publicity. It’s also a matter of principle, based on the administration’s deep belief that it has the right to act as it pleases, and that the public has no right to know what it’s doing."

Krugman continues, "What Mr. Cheney is defending, in other words, is a doctrine that makes the United States a sort of elected dictatorship: a system in which the president, once in office, can do whatever he likes, and isn’t obliged to consult or inform either Congress or the public."

  • Solicitor General Theodore Olson, addressing the Supreme Court on April 27, 2004.
  • Paul Orfanedes, attorney for Judicial Watch explaining the merits of the case and being questioned by Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens on April 27, 2004.
  • Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, one of the two plaintiffs in the lawsuit along with the Sierra Club.

Transcript

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

AMY GOODMAN: We move now to the last segment, Supreme Court heard long awaited arguments in a White House effort to keep private the records of Vice President Dick Cheney’s energy task force. Three years ago, the groups Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club sued forthright to make public the notes of the meetings, but the Bush administration refused to. The groups’ contend Cheney’s task force was not a purely governmental body, but took heavy input from industry lobbyists who were deeply involved in formulating policy and must disclose the deliberations. Paul Krugman writes, "Cheney’s determination to keep his secrets probably reflects more than an effort to avoid bad publicity. It’s also a matter of principle. Based on the administration’s deep belief that it has the right to act as it please and the public has no right to know what it’s doing." Krugman continues, "Mr. Cheney is defending, in other words, a doctrine that make the United States a sort of elected dictatorship, a system that the president once in office can do whatever he likes and is not obliged to consult congress or the public." Let’s listen to how the arguments began at the Supreme Court yesterday. The argument 03475, Richard b. Cheney, versus the United States district court. General Olson.

SOLICITOR GENERAL THEODORE OLSON: Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the court. This is a case about the separation of powers. The Constitution commits to the president’s discretion the authority to obtain the opinions of subordinates and formulate recommendations for legislation. Congress may neither intrude on the president’s ability to perform these functions, nor authorize private litigants to use the courts to do so. As this court has constructed the federal advisory committee act, to avoid what the court record regarded and described as formidable constitutional questions, it does not permit the litigation and discovery the respondents wish to pursue.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Solicitor General Ted Olson addressing the Supreme Court. Later in the proceedings, the attorney for judicial watch explained the merits of the case. He is questioned by Supreme Court justice John Paul Stevens.

JOHN PAUL STEVENS: There’s been a couple of statements with respect to or complete case is based on nothing more than allegation. That is a false statement in our view. We use to support our claims we rely on the statement and the memorandum creating the document says that the vice president has discretion to create subordinate working groups. Then we also attached several statements, acknowledgements by the government that described meets between task force representatives and representatives of Enron and representatives of the working groups. I believe the government itself acknowledged there were at least five such meetings. We know that the vice president met with the chairman of Enron, Ken Lay, and the vice president himself in an interview, he gave on nightline said we met with all kinds of folks and energy groups. We met with environmental groups.

PAUL ORFANEDES: I don’t see how that — what does that prove?

JOHN PAUL STEVENS: The point is that this shows the involvement of outside —

PAUL ORFANEDES: They talked to a lot of people and got advice. Does that make them day fact tow members of the committee?

JOHN PAUL STEVENS: That’s the question we’re seeking to answer through the discovery. The point is that these are not mere unsupported allegations.

PAUL ORFANEDES: I’m not sure that’s right. The fact that they talked to a lot of people doesn’t prove anything to me.

JOHN PAUL STEVENS: If you put that together, the allegations of the individuals that were met with the statement in the memorandum that allows the vice president discretion to create working groups, we think it does raise the significant question as to whether outside individuals were participating in the working groups and participating in the committee as a whole.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Judicial Watch attorney being questioned by Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens. We’re joined on the phone by Tom Fitton, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit along with the Sierra Club. In a quick summary why you feel it’s so important that the information was released, who the vice president consulted.

TOM FITTON: The law requires it. This administration like other administrations need to apply and be accountable to the law, however politically uncomfortable it is. The federal advisory committee act is designed to insure that the federal task force, the commissions when they use outsiders, that the information about its deliberations be made public and that the groups themselves, the task force in this case, get views from both sides of the aisle, both sides of the issue, really. And because what the president is asking us to could is say this is not me talking. He’s saying this is the energy task force up. Have to pay special attention to it. If asking for to us give the added credibility, then we have a right under the law to find out more about the operation. Specifically, if he had outsiders involved in a way that would violate the law, and casts doubt upon the recommendations as being sophisticated or well thought out.

AMY GOODMAN: Tom Fitton, I want to thank you for being with us, president of Judicial Watch.

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