April 27, 2004

That Dick Cheney case in the Supreme Court. Nina Totenberg had an excellent presentation this morning on the case about compelling Dick Cheney to provide discovery delving into the meetings of his energy task force, which will be argued in the Supreme Court today. Most of the news coverage of this case up until now has been about the effort to induce Justice Scalia to recuse himself for having gone on a duck hunting trip with Cheney. But this is an important case about the power of the Executive Branch, and without question, Justice Scalia is the strongest voice on the Court for protecting the independence of the Presidency. He has been a lone voice for the strongest position, most notably in the Independent Counsel case (Morrison v. Olson), so it is naive or self-deceiving to believe the effort to eliminate his participation in this case is primarily a matter of principle about judicial ethics. This is a vital area of law, in which Scalia's writings are unique and of great distinction: the arguments of those who oppose the power of the Presidency in this case ought to need to go through the scrutiny of this Justice. Those who care about the quality of constitutional law should dearly want the contribution he can make to the articulation of law in this case.

The attention to the duck-hunting trip and the petty indignation about the appearance of impropriety, rather than to the important questions of the independent functioning of the Presidency, is typical of the way public discourse in this country slips into the gossipy level of talking about celebrities and their evil ways. Why are we, as a nation, so uninterested in talking about ideas?

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