WASHINGTON (AP) – In typically combative style, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia dismissed a request Thursday that he stay out of a case involving his friend, Vice President Dick Cheney, saying a duck hunting trip they took was acceptable socializing that wouldn’t cloud his judgment.

“If it is reasonable to think that a Supreme Court justice can be bought so cheap, the nation is in deeper trouble than I had imagined,” Scalia wrote in response to the Sierra Club’s request that he disqualify himself.

The environmental organization is pursuing a lawsuit that seeks to compel the Bush administration to release information about closed-door meetings of Cheney’s energy task force, which crafted the administration’s energy policy.

At issue in the case are allegations that energy industry executives and lobbyists were in on the Cheney meetings while environmentalists were shut out. Cheney is a former energy executive.

In his 21-page statement, Scalia revealed details for the first time of his trip with Cheney to Louisiana, where the justice hunts each winter.

He said he was the go-between to invite Cheney to hunt with a Scalia friend, Wallace Carline, who owns an oil rig services firm. Scalia and Cheney are friends from their days working in the Ford administration, the justice noted, and the trip plans were made before the energy case went before the court.

Scalia and Cheney flew together on a government jet, accompanied by one of Scalia’s sons and a son-in-law. The justice said that he still bought a round-trip airline ticket and “none of us saved a cent by flying on the vice president’s plane.”

The court agreed in December to hear the energy task force case, and three weeks later Scalia and Cheney flew to Carline’s hunting camp.

The trip spurred calls from some Democratic lawmakers and dozens of newspapers for Scalia to recuse himself. The Sierra Club spoke of “the continuing damage this affair is doing to the prestige and credibility of this court.”

Supreme Court justices, unlike judges on other courts, decide for themselves if they have conflicts, and their decisions are final. There was no obligation for Scalia to explain his decision, but he did in a 21-page memorandum.

The conservative Reagan administration appointee said that despite “embarrassing criticism and adverse publicity” he saw no reason to step aside because of the 48-hour excursion with the vice president.

“My recusal is required if … my impartiality might reasonably be questioned,” Scalia said. “Why would that result follow from my being in a sizable group of persons, in a hunting camp with the vice president, where I never hunted with him in the same blind or had other opportunity for private conversation?”

He compared the trip to social activities that justices have engaged in with presidents and other powerful figures dating back more than a century, including poker games and dinner parties.

Sierra Club lawyer David Bookbinder said Scalia’s announcement was not necessarily the end of the controversy.

“To the extent that he feels unhappy or wounded by what’s happened, we sympathize with him, but he was in the best position to avoid it,” Bookbinder said.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who raised questions about the trip in January, said that “instead of strengthening public confidence in our court system, Justice Scalia’s decision risks undermining it.”

Known for passionate and sometimes stinging opinions, the 68-year-old Scalia took issue with media reports about his trip and comments about his ethics. He said a recusal “would give elements of the press a veto over participation of any justices who had social contacts with, or were even known to be friends of, a named official. That is intolerable.”

“My recusal would also encourage so-called investigative journalists to suggest improprieties, and demand recusals, for other inappropriate (and increasingly silly reasons),” he wrote.

“The people must have confidence in the integrity of the justices, and that cannot exist in a system that assumes them to be corruptible by the slightest friendship or favor, in an atmosphere where the press will be eager to find foot-faults.”

In Louisiana, Cheney, Scalia and the justice’s two relatives joined about nine other hunters, including Carline, Scalia said, “and it was not an intimate setting.”

The case is Cheney v. United States District Court for the District of Columbia, 03-475.



On the Net:

Justice Scalia’s memorandum is available at: http://wid.ap.org/documents/scotus/040318cheney.pdf

AP-ES-03-18-04 1735EST



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