The Facts Machine

"And I come back to you now, at the turn of the tide"

Thursday, June 24, 2004

scotus punts again

Supreme Court Refuses to Order Cheney to Release Energy Papers:
The Supreme Court handed a major political victory to the Bush administration today, ruling 7 to 2 that Vice President Dick Cheney is not obligated, at least for now, to release secret details of his energy task force.

The majority of the justices agreed with the administration's arguments that private deliberations among a president, vice president and their close advisers are indeed entitled to special treatment — arising from the constitutional principle known as executive privilege — although they said the administration must still prove the specifics of its case in the lower courts.

"A president's communications and activities encompass a vastly wider range of sensitive material than would be true of any ordinary individual," the court said in a summary of the majority opinion written by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy.

By sending the case back to the lower federal courts, the majority removed a significant political headache for President Bush and Vice President Cheney. As a practical matter, the outcome today means that the final resolution will not come until well after the November elections.
This case always reminded me of a bit on infidelity in Chris Rock's 1997 stand-up show Bring the Pain, in which the woman tells her man "I know you did it, just admit it!" We know that there were plenty of foxes in that henhouse of Cheney's when they were crafting the administration's energy policy, we were just trying to get a finalized list of names.

Would I have rathered that the decision went the other way? Of course. And a lower court might still force them to release the papers, albeit long after the November election.

And that's probably the point: This decision was another part of the Supreme Court's "punt at all costs" strategy for 2004: They're taking every precaution not to make a decision that could strongly affect the coming election, so as to ensure the greatest legitimacy possible for the November results, after what happened in 2000.

They punted big-time on the Pledge case, shooting it down on a technicality not related to the church-state debate. And now they're neutralizing any political implications from this one by sending it back to a lower court, delaying the full result of the situation until next year at least. And since the vote was 7-2 (with Stevens and Breyer joining the Florida Five in the affirmative), it's harder for us to complain about Scalia and his duck-hunting. But it wasn't a full victory for the administration, since the Justices agreed that Cheney still had to positively make his case in court in the future.

So basically it's a draw and we go on with our lives, for now. The Court neutralized two politically charged cases, one that could have helped Republicans by giving them a wedge issue ("under god") they could try to use against the Democrats, and one that could have hurt the administration by shedding more light on its strong connections to the Enrons and other various polluters of the country. I suppose it's a fair trade-off. I'd rather be talking about Iraq and terrorism anyway.

UPDATE: Good question from Kevin: "And just what is it about energy policy that the White House thinks ought to be kept secret, anyway? After all, it's not like national security or military policy was part of the discussion, right?"


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