Public-policy watchdog groups like the Sierra Club and JudicialWatch have been driven to fits of near apoplexy by Bushadministration policies ever since he took office, but theadministration’s current case before the Supreme Court could seethem heading for a collective aneurysm. The Bushies are appealing alower court decision not to allow former energy executive andcurrent acting president Dick Cheney’s energy task force to keepthe contents of its meetings secret. According to recent AP newsstories, the more conservative members of the Supreme Court (which,these days, is more or less equivalent to mentioning “the moreconservative members of the Christian Coalition”) have been hintingat their reluctance to let the records of Cheney’s meetings to bebrought out into the open.
“He has the power as an independent branch to say, ‘No, thisintrudes too much upon my powers. I will not do it,'” said JusticeAntonin Scalia. Cheney, the branch in question, recently returnedfrom a hunting trip with Scalia a few weeks after the Supreme Courtagreed to hear the case. Despite suggestions that Scalia recusehimself based on conflict of interest, he has so far stayed on thecase. His absence might not make too much difference, though.Several other justices have voiced their sympathy toward aseparation-of-powers argument as well as concerns about, as the AParticle put it, “disrupting behind-the-scenes work ofgovernment.”
It’s all well and good for work to be done behind the sceneswhen it concerns, say, national security, but how necessary is acloak of secrecy when energy policy is concerned? Justice RuthBader Ginsburg, a Clinton appointee, seemed less eager to toe thecompany line. She questioned why the administration was making afederal case, as it were, over releasing some details regardingenergy policy when they had given out 36,000 pages of agencyrecords on the same subject. “If the whole thing is so misguided,if the application of this [law] violates the separation of powers,why did the government respond to the requests for information fromthe agencies?”
This pick-and-choose attitude for choosing what the outsideworld gets to see is what could prove to be the administration’sundoing. They apparently learned from Clinton that there are onlyso many things an administration can blatantly lie about and getaway with it. So they’ve adopted a policy where you can always tellwhen they’re lying or hiding something, but you can’t do anythingabout it. When they think they can get away with some form ofsubterfuge over damaging claims made against them, they denyeverything. When they think they can’t, they say “I’m not telling!The Constitution says I don’t have to!”
The administration’s stated motive for not wanting to releaseinformation is that it would weaken the office of the presidencyoverall by allowing such a precedent to be set. This totally smacksof protective rationalization, as witnessed by how they went aheadand let Condoleezza Rice testify before the 9/11 Commission.Before, they had been making all kinds of noise about how sheshouldn’t have to testify based on, you guessed it: executiveprivilege, separation of powers, blah, blah, blah … But afterthey determined it would be more politically damaging to not lether testify, they reversed course.
So we were treated to the sight of Condi going in front of thecommission and giving a carefully rehearsed and distorted versionof the facts, eyebrows plucked into a permanent expression ofrighteous concern. The decision to let her testify came after sheappeared on numerous TV talk shows and discussed the very subjectsshe was claiming she shouldn’t have to discuss under oath. It’s asif the talk shows were a trial balloon to see how well she wouldhold up under pressure in an official hearing. But the point is,once public opinion appeared to be turning on the administration’sdecision to block Rice’s testimony, they decided they weren’treally all that concerned about protecting the office of thepresidency on general principle after all.
It’s no secret that the Bush bandwagon isn’t the tree-huggingestadministration in history, but they should face some kind ofaccountability for their actions. If you’re going to let energycompany execs dictate your energy policies, at least have the ballsnot to let them do it behind closed doors, hiding behind executiveprivilege or whatever is most convenient to hide behind when you’retaken to task for conflict of interest. As mentioned earlier, muchof the current Supreme Court is �ber-conservative thesedays. If Bush gets elected to a second term (*shudder*), he willvery likely have the opportunity to make some more appointments andtilt the balance even further-with a rabidly right-wing courtbacking him up on his every move, that would be where you’d startto see an infringement on the separation of powers.