US Supreme Court sends White House energy task force case back to lower court

Maureen Lorenzetti
Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, June 29 -- The Supreme Court June 24 essentially delayed a decision on whether documents pertaining to the White House energy task force should be made public until after the November US presidential elections.

On a 7-2 vote, the court sent the case back to a federal appeals court. A majority of the judges decided that the lower court needed to more carefully examine the White House's argument that discussions and documents related to the policy group were protected from public disclosure laws.

The decision stems from a lawsuit brought by an unusual coalition that included environmental group Sierra Club and the conservative legal foundation Judicial Watch Inc.

The two organizations said the 2001 task force, led by US Vice-Pres. Dick Cheney, should have told the American public who from industry they met with before releasing a May 2001 policy document. The advocacy groups, as well as the General Accounting Office on behalf of various lawmakers, also want documents and meeting details released. But the White House has refused to release specifics, saying they are under no legal obligation to do so.

A federal district court agreed with the two groups as did a federal appeals court.

The White House welcomed the high court's recent action, but the administration may face another test next year depending on what the appeals court decides to do.

"We believe that the president should be able to receive candid and unvarnished advice from his staff and advisers. It's an important principle," a White House spokesman told reporters.

Meanwhile, campaign officials for the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) said the White House's actions demonstrate it has something to hide.

"[President] George Bush and Dick Cheney have forgotten that the White House belongs to America, not Enron Corp., and they owe it to the public to disclose this information," a Kerry spokesman said.

Contact Maureen Lorenzetti at Maureenl@ogjonline.com.

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