WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court case involving Vice President
Dick Cheney's efforts to fight disclosure of White House records
has more to do with politics than law, say defenders and critics
of the Bush administration's hard line in the dispute.
Legal experts said they doubted that the case no matter
how it turns out will have much bearing on the broad issue
of executive privilege.
A loss for the administration would make it easier for outside
groups to get hold of documents or other materials from some
kinds of advisory bodies now shielded from public view. But
that will not allow broad new access to private or sensitive
Oval Office business, most lawyers agree.
The Supreme Court, which will hear arguments on the case
Tuesday, must decide a rather arcane issue of law. At most,
the administration would be required to begin turning over
some documents about the inner workings of a study group chaired
by Cheney that came up with recommendations for a national
The White House has framed the case as a major test of executive
power, although it has toned down some of the rhetoric. Lawyers
for Bush have argued that the forced disclosure of confidential
records intrudes on a president's power to get candid advice
and act on it as he sees fit.
"I think the case has gotten an importance beyond the
actual substance. It's being touted by both sides as a dramatic
decision that will weaken the presidency or strengthen the
presidency," said Ronald Rotunda, a conservative law
professor at George Mason University. "I don't think
it's going to affect the presidency much one way or the other."
Still, the case should not be brushed off as mere politics,
said law professor Douglas Kmiec at Pepperdine University.
If Cheney loses, "the message to the president would
be clear no one in the executive branch can rely upon outside
sources, even derivatively, and that would exalt ignorance,
Government "will be less well informed, less efficient,
and generally, less responsive to public need," he said.
The court is expected to rule on the case this summer.
Whatever the long term legal implications, the political
fallout could be significant should Cheney have to open the
records and if they reveal cozy White House contacts with
former Enron chief Kenneth Lay and others in the energy industry.
Doug Kendall, a lawyer for the environmental group Community
Rights Counsel, said by fighting disclosure the administration
has only drawn more attention to the case.
"The administration posture here has been incredibly
bad politically," he said. "It is unseemly for the
administration to have tried to create national energy policy
by listening almost exclusively to energy industry executives.
It would have been a two day story if the administration simply
had provided the information."
Also hanging over the case is controversy over a hunting
trip Cheney took with Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia,
an old friend, just weeks after the high court agreed to hear
Scalia has rejected requests to recuse himself from the