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Justice Scalia defends hunting trip with Cheney
WASHINGTON (AP) — Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a combative conservative known for his tough talk on and off the bench, isn't backing down in the face of criticism that he should stay out of a case involving his friend and hunting partner, Vice President Dick Cheney.

The two men went on a duck hunting trip last month, three weeks after the court agreed to hear a White House appeal in a case involving private meetings of the vice president's energy task force. Critics said the trip raised questions about Scalia's impartiality in the case.

Scalia told a gathering at Amherst College on Tuesday night there was nothing improper about the trip and nothing about the case that made it a conflict for him.

"It did not involve a lawsuit against Dick Cheney as a private individual," Scalia said in response to a question from the audience of about 600 people. "This was a government issue. It's acceptable practice to socialize with executive branch officials when there are not personal claims against them. That's all I'm going to say for now. Quack, quack."

Cheney wants to keep private the details of closed-door White House strategy sessions that produced the administration's energy policy. The administration is fighting a lawsuit brought by watchdog and environmental groups that contend industry executives may have helped shape the administration's energy policy.

Paul Rothstein, a law professor at Georgetown University, said Wednesday that while the lawsuit does not seek money from Cheney, it would be a mistake to say the vice president does not have a personal stake in it.

"There are reputational stakes, career stakes for Cheney," Rothstein said. "To a man in Cheney's position, those things are as important as money. And in the long run, they mean money."

He said Scalia should recuse himself.

"I'm surprised he's sticking by his guns. I would hope he does see the light," Rothstein said, then added, "He has some of the arrogance that sometimes goes with being very smart."

Democrats in Congress, some legal ethicists and dozens of newspaper editorials have called on Scalia to stay out of the case. None of the groups in the case has formally asked Scalia to recuse himself, but the Sierra Club has said it might.

Supreme Court justices, unlike judges on other courts, decide for themselves if they have conflicts, and their decisions are final.

Scalia, named to the court by President Reagan, had not publicly addressed the issue before his speech in Amherst, Mass., where about a dozen people wearing black armbands protested. One held a sign that said, "Let's go hunting."

Michael Ramsey, a former Scalia law clerk, said the justice may be concerned about setting a precedent that would "lead to a flood of recusal requests that will likely have the effect of preventing the justices from having social interaction with other branches."

"Once we start down that road, where do we stop?" asked Ramsey, who teaches law at the University of San Diego.

Last month, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist rebuffed Senate Democratic leaders who questioned the trip, saying that justices strive to follow federal laws that require judges to stay out of cases in which their impartiality might reasonably be questioned.

Thomas Morgan, a law professor at George Washington University specializing in ethics, said although Scalia has not violated any laws, the public appearance is damaging.

"This falls into the category of, 'What were they thinking?'" he said.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg refused to say Tuesday whether she thought Scalia should stay out of the case, when asked about it during an appearance in Hawaii. Ginsburg joked, however, that she has enjoyed deer meat from her longtime friend's hunting expeditions.

"Justice Scalia has been more successful at deer hunting than he has at duck hunting," Ginsburg said to laughter.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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