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Scalia Must Bench Himself in Cheney Appeal
Quack, quack. So much for the constitutionally mandated
separation of powers.
Quack, quack. Say goodbye to judicial integrity. Quack, quack. Forget about
holding the nation's vice president accountable for his dealings. Quack,
quack. Trash the right of citizens to transparent government. Quack, quack.
Bizarre as it sounds, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia quacked like a
duck last week during his defensive denial that a duck-hunting trip with Vice
President Dick Cheney was improper. According to Scalia, the visit of the two
men to the private game reserve of a top oil executive was merely a pleasant
But Scalia's glib response was disingenuous, coming shortly before the
Supremes will rule on a White House appeal in a case involving private meetings
of Cheney's energy task force. It's outrageous that he does not intend to
"It did not involve a lawsuit against Dick Cheney as a private individual,"
Scalia said of the appeal while speaking at Amherst College last Tuesday.
"This was a government issue. It's acceptable practice to socialize with
executive branch officials when there are not personal claims against them.
That's all I'm going to say for now. Quack, quack."
The case in question is not a legalistic quibble, and Scalia seems
determined to vote in what may be a hotly contested decision with enormous
political effect. His Louisiana outing with Cheney came three weeks after the
Supreme Court agreed to hear Cheney's appeal of a lower court order that he
turn over records of the closed task force meetings he held with executives of
the oil, coal, gas and nuclear companies in 2001.
Those meetings became the basis for the president's national energy policy,
which is chockablock with tax breaks and subsidies for these same industries.
Many of the same companies represented at Cheney's meetings, such as
federal loopholes created by previous GOP administrations under the broad
banner of "deregulation."
Unfortunately for us, the Constitution has a glaring loophole: If a Supreme
Court justice doesn't have the moral fiber or humility to do the right thing
in a case like this - federal rules instruct a judge to disqualify himself "in
any proceeding in which his impartiality might be questioned" - there is no
check or balance whereby that decision can be reviewed or rebuked.
According to an Amherst official, Scalia - with his waterfowl impression -
may have been trying to pre-empt protesters he thought were going to perform
their own impromptu noises. Nevertheless, by arrogantly trying to make a joke
out of his unethical behavior, Scalia has again made a mockery of the enormous
responsibility the Constitution places on our highest court.
After all, it was Scalia who led the Supreme Court with flimsy legal logic
to validate the dubious 2000 Florida election results that were the difference
in placing the current president in power. This time he may have gone too far
in shredding the Supreme Court's vaunted reputation of impartiality.
"I'm surprised he's sticking by his guns. I would hope he does see the
light," Georgetown University law professor Paul Rothstein said of Scalia's
stubbornness to acknowledge what is simple common sense: If you are a longtime
friend of the vice president and are accepting free junket flights from him,
you'd best step aside when it comes time to rule on a decision that may damage
Finally, we should remember what the legal case in question is about:
transparency in government - one of democracy's taproots. While Scalia wriggles
to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, the case's co-plaintiffs -
the liberal Sierra Club and the conservative Judicial Watch - have joined
forces to demand accountability in government, so that we might see how
corporate interests wield disproportionate power in the halls of government.
The Scalia-Cheney hunting tryst shows that the old-boy network is still
scamming the public.