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Suit against bushs energy task force allowed to proceed

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Court Rejects Bid to Stop Cheney Lawsuit

By Henri E. Cauvin

Washington Post Staff Writer

Tuesday, July 8, 2003; 4:16 PM

A federal appeals court today rejected Vice President Dick Cheney's bid to keep secret the workings of his energy task force, saying sufficient safeguards were already in place to prevent the disclosure of genuinely privileged information.

The 2-1 ruling, by a panel of judges from the Court of Appeals, does not in itself order the release of specific information, but it affirms the lower court judge's order seeking documents that would shed light on the membership of the Cheney group.

Drawing on two rulings rendered by the court against President Clinton, Judge David S. Tatel said that the Cheney group had not shown that irreparable harm would be done if the lower court were allowed to proceed. Tatel, a Clinton appointee, was joined in the ruling by Judge Harry T. Edwards, a Jimmy Carter appointee. Judge A. Raymond Randolph, who was appointed by President George H.W. Bush, dissented.

The White House, which says the task force was made up exclusively of government employees, has said that the deliberations can remain secret and that any court ruling to the contrary would exceed the judiciary's constitutional authority.

But critics of the energy task force have charged that leading energy industry figures, such as Kenneth Lay of Enron, were essentially members of the advisory group, and that its work was therefore subject to public scrutiny. Judicial Watch, a legal advocacy organization, sued in 2001, accusing the task force of breaking federal law and demanding the release of the records of the task force. A similar suit filed subsequently in California by the Sierra Club was joined with Judicial Watch's suit, and the consolidated action ended up before U.S. District Court Judge Emmet G. Sullivan.

After Sullivan denied the defendant's motion to dismiss the case and ordered the task force to begin turning over documents for the preliminary review process known as discovery, Justice Department lawyers went to the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, the country's most influential court after the Supreme Court, to stop the discovery order.

The Bush administration's ties to the energy industry have made the energy task force, which released its recommendations two years ago, the subject of considerable scrutiny. Environmentalists believe they were shut out of an important policymaking process, while other critics say the task force is emblematic of an administration determined to do much of its important business beyond public scrutiny.

© 2003 The Washington Post Company

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