WASHINGTON - The U.S. Supreme Court said on Monday it would hear Vice President Dick Cheney's case for keeping his energy task force papers secret.
The high court said Cheney's Justice Department lawyers could present detailed arguments on why he should not have to comply with a judge's order to hand over details of White House contacts with the energy industry.
Two groups, the Sierra Club and Judicial Watch, sued in 2001 to find out the names and positions of members of the energy task force headed by the vice president that year.
They allege that as Cheney drafted energy policy, he consulted industry executives such as Enron Corp.'s Ken Lay, making them effective members of his energy task force while leaving environmentalists out in the cold.
Cheney was chief executive of energy and construction company Halliburton Co . from 1995 to 2000. His 2001 energy task force produced a policy paper calling for more oil and gas drilling and a revived nuclear power program.
Cheney has acknowledged meeting Lay, but his lawyers say the energy task force was comprised of government officials, not corporate chieftains.
Over a year ago, U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan ordered the White House to either produce documents about the energy task force or provide a detailed list of the documents it was withholding, and why.
But the Bush administration resisted and appealed the order, even though the case was not completed. The White House said it was immune from having to produce the information on constitutional grounds.
By accepting the case, the Supreme Court agreed to review the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals, which earlier this year refused to step in, saying Cheney did not have legal standing to refuse the judge's order.
The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case in the spring next year, with a decision due by the end of June.
The Energy Department, the Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies have turned over thousands of pages of documents in the case, but none have come from the White House.
Justice Department lawyers representing Cheney argued that judicial power cannot extend to ordering the vice president to disclose details about the way the president gets advice -- in this case, advice on energy policy.
In papers recently filed with the Supreme Court, Judicial Watch countered that Cheney's claims to immunity were laughable after a 1997 Supreme Court decision that discovery could proceed against then-President Bill Clinton in a case brought by sexual-harassment accuser Paula Jones.
The Sierra Club accused the Bush administration of trying to stall release of the information beyond the 2004 presidential election.
© Copyright 2003 Reuters Ltd