Cheney v. United States District Court for the District of Columbia

PETITIONER: Richard B. Cheney, Vice President of the United States, et al.
RESPONDENT: United States District Court for the District of Columbia, et al.
LOCATION: Meramec River

DOCKET NO.: 03-475
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

CITATION: 542 US 367 (2004)
GRANTED: Dec 15, 2003
ARGUED: Apr 27, 2004
DECIDED: Jun 24, 2004

ADVOCATES:
Alan B. Morrison - argued the cause for Respondent Sierra Club
Paul J. Orfanedes - argued the cause for Respondent Judicial Watch, Inc.
Theodore B. Olson - argued the cause for Petitioners

Facts of the case

In January 2001, President Bush created an advisory committee on energy policy headed by Vice President Dick Cheney. After the group issued its recommendations five months later, Judicial Watch, a non-profit government watchdog group, filed suit in federal district court. The Sierra Club, an environmentalist organization, later filed a nearly identical suit that was joined with the Judicial Watch suit. The two organizations alleged that the advisory committee had violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) by not making public all the documents that it had generated. While FACA exempts committees composed entirely of federal officials, Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club argued that the exemption did not apply because private lobbyists had participated in the energy committee's meetings.

Cheney and the advisory group asked the court to dismiss the case, claiming that it violated the Constitutional separation of powers by requiring judicial oversight of internal executive branch deliberations. The district court refused.

The government then sought summary judgment of the case (without the discovery process) based on a few administrative documents that it claimed showed that only federal officials had worked on the group. The district court denied this request as well, and the government appealed to the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. The appeals court refused to grant summary judgment, arguing that it could not yet rule on the separation of powers argument. The government then appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Question

Does the Federal Advisory Committee Act authorize judicial review of executive branch deliberations through a broad discovery process that allows a private organization to review internal documents of high-level advisors to the President? If such review is authorized by FACA, does it violate the Constitutional doctrine of separation of powers?

Media for Cheney v. United States District Court for the District of Columbia

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 27, 2004 in Cheney v. United States District Court for the District of Columbia

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 24, 2004 in Cheney v. United States District Court for the District of Columbia

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No. 03-475, Cheney against United States District Court for the District of Columbia will be announced by Justice Kennedy.

Anthony M. Kennedy:

The plaintiffs who commenced this case in the United States District Court alleged that members of the presidential committee had failed to comply with the federal statute, the Federal Advisory Committee Act.

The common shorthand reference to that law is FACA.

The Task Force in question was the National Energy Policy Development Group.

Its chairman was Vice President Cheney.

In a memorandum establishing the group, the President of the United States directed the Task Force to develop a National Energy Policy.

FACA requires advisory committees to comply with detailed procedural and disclosure requirements.

And the plaintiffs alleged that the Task Force was not in compliance.

The defendants pointed out that FACA exempts from its coverage, committees that are composed wholly or full-time or permanent part-time officers or employees of the Federal Government, and the named members of the group all did fall within this category.

Now, the plaintiffs counted that despite its formal composition, the group have -- had included non-Government employees in its deliberations.

And under this theory, the plaintiffs have said the exemption from FACA did not apply.

Now, that -- those contingents were the main underlying issue in that case.

Then, the case became clouded with pretrial and procedural questions that give rise to our decision today.

The precise dispute before us began as a discovery issue.

The plaintiffs demanded information and documents about the group's meetings and deliberations and these plaintiffs are the respondents here in this Court.

The Vice President and other defendants are the Petitioners here.

The Government representing the Vice President and his co-members on the committee took the position that the information requests were unreasonable.

Merely responding to the request, they said, in effect, would give the plaintiffs all the relief they sought on the merits.

Furthermore, particularly in the case of the Vice President, it was argued that compliance with the discovery request was so burdensome and intrusive that this in itself would violate the principle of separation of powers.

The District Court rejected the Government's objections.

It ordered discovery and it denied the Government's motion to certify that ruling to the Court of Appeals.

The Vice President and the other defendants brought in action in the Court of Appeals seeking the writ of mandamus.

It asked that the District Court be directed to hold the discovery and dismiss the suit.

The Court of Appeals denied the mandamus petition.

We granted certiorari.

We now vacate the judgment and remand for further proceedings.

We reject respondent's preliminary argument that the mandamus position -- petition was jurisdictionally out of time under Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 4a.

That rule by its plain terms applies only to the filing of a notice of appeal.

It's inapplicable to the Government's mandamus petition under the All Writs Act.

Respondent's alternative argument that the mandamus petition was barred by the equitable doctrine of latches also lacks merit.