US: Supreme Court Justice Guest of Cheney

Publisher Name: 
Los Angeles Times

Patterson, La. - Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia traveled as an
official guest of Vice President Dick Cheney on a small government
jet that served as Air Force Two when the pair came here last month
to hunt ducks.

The revelation cast further doubts about whether Scalia can be an
impartial judge in Cheney's upcoming case before the Supreme Court,
legal ethics experts said. The hunting trip took place just weeks
after the high court agreed to take up Cheney's bid to keep secret
the details of his energy policy task force.

According to those who met them at the small airstrip here, the
justice and the vice president flew from Washington on Jan. 5 and
were accompanied by a second, backup Air Force jet that carried staff
and security aides to the vice president.

Two military Black Hawk helicopters were brought in and hovered
nearby as Cheney and Scalia were whisked away in a heavily guarded
motorcade to a secluded, private hunting camp owned by an oil
industry businessman.

The Times previously reported that the two men hunted ducks together
while the case was pending, but it wasn't clear then that they had
traveled together or that Scalia had accompanied Cheney on Air Force
Two.

Several experts in legal ethics questioned whether Scalia should
decide the case.

"In my view, this further ratchets it up. If the vice president is
the source of generosity, it means Scalia is accepting a gift of some
value from a litigant in a case before him," said New York University
law professor Stephen Gillers.

"It is not just a trip with a litigant. It's a trip at the expense of
the litigant. This is an easy case for stepping aside."

Aides to Cheney say the vice president, like the president, is
entitled to travel to vacation spots on government jets and to take
along guests at no cost.

"The vice president is on duty 24 hours, seven days a week," said
Kevin Kellems, a spokesman for Cheney. "His security is important,
and a certain number of people must accompany him."

Judges are bound by different rules, however. Federal law says that
"any justice or judge shall disqualify himself in any proceeding in
which his impartiality might be questioned."

When asked about the trip last month, Scalia confirmed that he had
gone duck hunting with Cheney, but said he did not see a need to
withdraw from the case.

"I do not think my impartiality could reasonably be questioned," he
said in a written response to The Times. He said "social contacts"
between justices and high-level government officials have not been
seen as improper, even when those officials have cases in the courts
that concern "their official capacity, as opposed to their personal
capacity."

"I expect that all of the Justices were invited to the Vice
President's annual Christmas Party. The invitation was not improper,
nor was the attendance," Scalia wrote.

This week, the justice was asked whether he had traveled to south
Louisiana as Cheney's guest or paid for the trip. He refused to
comment.

Two years ago, the Sierra Club and Judicial Watch sued Cheney,
seeking to learn whether the vice president and his staff had met
behind closed doors with lobbyists and corporate officials from the
oil, gas, coal and electric power industries.

A judge ordered Cheney to turn over documents detailing who met with
his energy task force. Cheney appealed, and in September, Bush
administration lawyers asked the Supreme Court to hear the case and
reverse the judge's order.

It "would violate fundamental principles of separation of powers" to
force the president or the vice president to disclose who they met
with, said U.S. Solicitor Gen. Theodore B. Olson.

After considering the appeal behind closed doors on three occasions,
the Supreme Court on Dec. 15 announced that the case of "in re
Richard B. Cheney" would be heard in the spring.

It takes the votes of at least four justices to grant review of a
case, but the court does not disclose which justices vote in favor of
such appeals.

The hunting trip took place three weeks later.

Northwestern University law professor Steven Lubet said a vacation
trip with the vice president is not the same as attending a Christmas
party.

"This is certainly a level of hospitality that most litigants are not
able to extend to Supreme Court justices," he said. "It also
reinforces the perception this was an exceptional event, not a
run-of-the-mill social event or a White House dinner."

The Washington legal director for the Sierra Club said his group is
considering filing a motion to ask Scalia to withdraw from the case.

"On the face of it, that makes things worse," said the Sierra Club's
David Bookbinder, referring to the justice's trip aboard an Air Force
jet. "The fact that the vice president is his host and, in effect, is
paying for his vacation puts it in an even more awkward light for
Justice Scalia."

The decision is likely to rest with Scalia himself. In a response to
a recent inquiry from two Senate Democrats prompted by the hunting
trip, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist said the high court does not
have a formal policy or rules for reviewing decisions by justices on
whether to withdraw from a case.

Gillers said he found Rehnquist's response troubling as well.

"This has exposed a gap in the ethics rules. This is a federal law
that applies to the justices, but in this instance, Scalia is the
judge of his own case. I would think the full court has an interest
in its institutional reputation and would want to review a decision
like this."

In south Louisiana - the state bills itself as the "Sportsman's
Paradise" - the Cheney-Scalia trip drew the attention of local
officials because of the unusual security precautions.

Scalia had hunted ducks in the state's southern marshes several times
before, and in November, Secret Service agents visited the area to
plan for a visit by the vice president.

Ken Perry, who runs the Perry Flying Center at the Harry P. Williams
Airport, said Secret Service agents were there in November to study
security plans for the upcoming trip. They returned for a second trip
around the Christmas holidays when the nation's terror level was
raised to orange, or high, he said.

He and St. Mary Parish Sheriff David Naquin said that on the morning
of Jan. 5, a large security contingent was in place - two Black Hawk
air combat rescue helicopters, a line of armored sport utility
vehicles and a ring of federal agents and sheriff's deputies who set
up a security perimeter. The area was declared a no-fly zone for
other aircraft.

It was raining when the two blue-and-white jets, with the U.S. flag
on their tails and the fuselages clearly marked "United States of
America," appeared under the clouds. Perry said the planes radioed
that "Air Force Two was on its approach." Perry said Cheney was among
the first to deplane, followed by Scalia and a young woman who was
identified to Perry as one of the justice's daughters.

Both Perry and Naquin said there were orders prohibiting photographs
of those who exited the planes and climbed into the motorcade. But
two days later, Cheney returned to the airport without Scalia, and
photographs were allowed. Perry and Naquin said the vice president
happily posed with them for photos at the Patterson airport.

Scalia stayed on to hunt for a few more days, the sheriff said, but
local officials said it was unclear how he returned to Washington.

Perry said the planes were piloted by Air Force crews, and he added
that the Air Force paid $2,000 for fuel to return to Andrews Air
Force Base in Maryland.

Lt. Col. David Branham, a spokesman at the base, said the 10- and
12-seat planes are assigned to the 89th Airlift Wing there and are
typically used for trips to rural airports too small to handle larger
aircraft. "That's part of the package for moving the president and
the vice president," he said.

The hunting camp is on private land and in a secluded section of a
bayou. According to several local hunters, it includes a large
floating camp where guests stay overnight. During the day, hunters
armed with shotguns go out in small boats to duck blinds to position
themselves for shooting.

Scalia and the sheriff said the hunting was not good in early
January, probably because of inclement weather. "It was terrible,"
Naquin said. "There were very few ducks killed."

The camp is owned by Wallace Carline, the head of Diamond Services
Corp., an oil services firm that is on 41 acres of waterfront
property in Amelia, La. The company provides oil dredging, pile
driving, salvage work, fabrication, pipe-rolling capability and
general oilfield construction.

Carline, who founded the company 42 years ago, also contributes money
to local Republicans running for office in Louisiana. He refused to
comment on the visit by Cheney and Scalia.

Carline's secretary said he was in Mexico and had nothing to say
about the hunting trip. "He enjoyed the visit," she said. "But it's
over with now. It's old news. He's not going to talk to you."

Serrano reported from Patterson, La., and Savage reported from Washington.

AMP Section Name:War & Disaster Profiteering
  • 26