The Supreme Court appeared troubled Tuesday by the prospect of letting the public have a look into private White House policy meetings, a hopeful sign for the Bush administration's aggressive defense of secrecy in the case of Vice President **** Cheney's energy task force.
The court is the latest stop in a nearly three-year fight over access to records of the task force that prepared a national energy strategy. The president put Cheney, a former energy industry executive, in charge and the group's recommendations were friendly to industries. Most stalled in Congress.
Raising the gravest concerns about unnecessary snooping into the executive branch was Justice Antonin Scalia, who stayed in the case despite conflict-of-interest questions relating to his friendship with Cheney. He said a president has broad authority to keep matters private.
''He has the power as an independent branch to say, 'No, this intrudes too much upon my powers. I will not do it,''' Scalia said.
Other justices also expressed concerns about a ruling that would disrupt the government's behind-the-scenes work.
At the same time, the court could disappoint the administration by deciding that the case is premature for a ruling because the lower court that ruled against the Bush administration had not worked out exactly which documents should be released. Several justices, including Sandra Day O'Connor, hinted at the possibility of such an outcome.
It's a simple separation of powers question--the Administration shouldn't even have sent anyone to argue the case, just ignored the courts. All you really need to know about this notion that private deliberations are public business is that the Justices then adjourned to a secret chamber to discuss it.