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Ruling on Energy Panel Is Appealed

Appeals court is urged to weigh the merits of a lawsuit over the vice president's task force.

August 09, 2003|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department urged a federal appeals court Friday to reconsider the continuation of a lawsuit seeking information about energy industry influence on a White House energy task force led by Vice President Dick Cheney.

The case "presents separation-of-powers questions of exceptional importance" because it would allow groups that filed the lawsuit to discover how President Bush "received advice on important national policy matters from his closest advisors," the Justice Department said in court papers.

A review by the U.S. Appeals Court for the District of Columbia Circuit is essential, the government said, to resolve conflicts with court rulings in previous cases and to ensure that any president can get "unregulated and uninhibited advice" from advisors, including the vice president.

The Sierra Club and Judicial Watch, a conservative government watchdog group, claim in the lawsuit that energy industry executives effectively became active participants in the drafting of the 2001 energy plan.

The administration says the drafting group, led by Cheney, consisted only of government officials.

A three-judge panel of the appeals court ruled last month that the Bush administration had not proved the lawsuit was an unconstitutional intrusion into the operations of the presidency. The lawsuit has been proceeding in a lower court.

The Justice Department is requesting a rehearing of the three-judge panel's decision by the entire appeals court.

Continuation of the lawsuit would mean that the administration could be forced to disclose the inner workings of the drafting of the policy. Federal agencies have already turned over about 39,000 pages, but the energy task force has turned over none.

The three-judge panel determined the appeals court had no jurisdiction to stop the lawsuit because the Bush administration had not asserted executive privilege to protect the documents.

The Justice Department filing Friday says the question is not executive privilege but the "inappropriateness" of forcing disclosure by presidential advisors based on "unsupported assertions" in the lawsuit.

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