Cheney v. United States District Court for the District of Columbia
542 U.S. 367 (2004)

  • Environmental organizations were attempting to get information on the internal meetings of an Energy Task Force on environmental issues headed by Vice President Cheney.
    • There was evidence that it was being secretly run by oil industry lobbyists.
    • The suit was brought under the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), which imposed disclosure requirements on committees and boards established by the President unless that committee was composed solely of government employees.
  • The Trial Court had ordered Cheney to turn over to the plaintiffs (one liberal public interest group, one conservative) the records of the administration’s Energy Task Force. Cheney appealed.
    • The Trial Court held that the Executive Branch could assert executive privilege, decline to produce the documents, and submit them to the District Court for a judicial determination of the appropriateness of that assertion.
    • Cheney argued that the Vice President need not turn over the documents and need not assert executive privilege, in order to deny the request to produce the documents.
    • Cheney argued that this was a separation of powers issue, and the Executive Branch didn’t need to turn over this sort of information to other branches of government.
  • The US Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case.
    • The US Supreme Court said, “The Appellate Court labored under the mistaken assumption that the assertion of executive privilege is a necessary precondition to the Government’s separation of powers objections.”
      • Even when confronted with a subpoena and a judicial order to produce documents, the Executive Branch need not invoke a doctrine that would subject its conduct to judicial review.
    • The Court distinguished this case from United States v. Nixon (418 U.S. 683 (1974)), by saying that civil litigation does not have the same sense of exigency that criminal cases have.
    • The Court held that instead of requiring Cheney to assert executive privilege, the lower courts should have asked whether permitting discovery constituted an unwarranted impairment of another branch in performance of its constitutional duties.