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   Unstable Rules

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6/25/2004 12:00 am

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Washington Post

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Analysis

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Entered 6/25/2004, Updated 6/25/2004

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WHEN HILLARY Clinton wanted to keep secret the proceedings of her health care task force in 1993, the courts drew an important legal line. If people who were not government employees were effectively acting as members of the group, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit wrote, federal law required certain disclosures. What's more, groups suing the task force to get access to its proceedings were entitled to discovery to find out what role those outside figures were actually playing. Yesterday the Supreme Court decided the case of Vice President Cheney's energy policy task force -- a case most famous for Justice Antonin Scalia's duck hunt but one that deals with the same law as the health care task force litigation a decade ago. The court said, in essence, that the White House is owed more deference than the D.C. Circuit showed it in either case; without quite saying so, it seemed to instruct the lower court to review its precedent. The decision is a partial win for Mr. Cheney, who gets to keep the task force's records secret while litigation continues. But it also casts the courts in an odd light, for the rules appear to be suddenly different for the Bush administration than they were for its predecessor.


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