The U. S. Supreme Court Asked to Reject the Government's Claim That it May Conduct the Public's Business in Secret

For Immediate Release: March 11, 2004

Frank DiFulvio: 202-628-8410
Patrice McDermott


(WASHINGTON DC) – The U. S. Supreme Court should "reject the government's claim that it may conduct the public's business in secret" according to a "friends of the court" (amici curiae) brief submitted today by four leading library associations, the nation's largest archival association, and five public interest organizations in support of the Sierra Club and Judicial Watch, Inc. in the case of Richard B. Cheney, Vice President of the United States, et. al., v. U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The case concerns the request by the Sierra Club and Judicial Watch for disclosure of who, outside of the government, participated in the vice president's National Energy Policy Development Group. Vice President Cheney has refused to disclose any information about the group.

"The secrecy surrounding Vice President Cheney's energy group only makes Americans distrustful and skeptical of their government," said Common Cause President Chellie Pingree. "It leaves us wondering: Who is benefiting?" John Podesta, President and CEO of the Center for American Progress and a former White House chief of staff concurred: "Our democratic system depends on public confidence in the workings of our government. Sunlight is essential if that confidence is to be preserved."

In 2002, the federal district court granted the motions of the Sierra Club and Judicial Watch to proceed with discovery about the makeup of the task force. The government appealed the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, which in July 2003 refused to overturn the lower court's order. The government then petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to take the case, which it agreed to do in December 2003.

"This administration is fanatically resistant to oversight and public accountability," said People For the American Way Foundation President Ralph G. Neas. "The Supreme Court should prevent obsessive White House secrecy from prevailing over basic constitutional checks and balances,"

The amici joining in this brief share the conviction that broad access to government records protects values essential to representative democracy and promotes public participation in public policy. They hold that "Public participation in government can be meaningful only if the people know what officials are doing, and how they are doing it. Equally, without that information the people can't hold public officials accountable for their actions."

"A free, plural, and inclusive democracy can prosper only when it is continuously subjected to public review and scrutiny," said American Library Association (ALA) Washington Office Executive Director Emily Sheketoff. "History has taught us that secrecy and democracy are like crude oil and pure water — no matter how hard to try to integrate the two, they simply can't co-exist as a single entity," she concluded.


Download the brief (2.5 MB PDF)