- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 8, 2002

Some members of the nation's largest lawyer group plan to use this week's annual meeting to criticize the Bush administration's handling of the terrorism investigation and business scandals.
They will not see President Bush, who is skipping a chance to speak to the American Bar Association and is vacationing at his Texas ranch, or hear from Vice President Richard B. Cheney or any Cabinet member.
The White House and ABA leaders say the president's absence has to do with scheduling, not political differences, although Mr. Bush and the group have had rough relations.
The last time the 400,000-member ABA held its annual meeting in Washington was 1985, and President Reagan delivered the welcome speech.
"It looks lot like a snub. There's a bit of arrogance 'We don't need you guys,'" said Stephen Hess, a political scientist with the Brookings Institution. "It borders on backing away from some opposition views."
White House spokeswoman Anne Womack said the president "can't do everything and be everywhere."
The meetings cover subjects that have dominated the executive branch: how the government should handle enemy combatants and immigrants arrested in the September 11 investigation and how investigators can monitor suspected terrorists without violating the Constitution.
The ABA may recommend that Congress intervene and stop the administration from denying access to attorneys for immigrants arrested since September 11 and for those declared enemy combatants by the president. Both issues have disturbed civil libertarians.
A federal judge ordered the Justice Department last week to release the names of more than 1,000 people picked up since the jetliner attacks. An appeal is likely.
"The people want the administration to answer hard questions. This could have provided him an ideal forum for addressing things that are crucial to his administration," said Erwin Chemerinsky, a law professor at the University of Southern California who is speaking at the meeting.
"Whether he would have won over skeptics and changed minds, there's no way to know," he said.
Mr. Bush has been at odds with the ABA since two months after taking office, when he announced he was ending a 50-year-old practice of the White House seeking ABA reviews of candidates for judgeships.
The ABA continues checking out candidates, but the reports are used primarily by the Democrat-controlled Senate, not the White House.
The president also was criticized by ABA leaders for his plans for military tribunals after September 11. No one has been tried before a tribunal.
ABA President Robert Hirshon said Mr. Bush was invited months ago, but the White House cited a scheduling conflict in turning down the request. Mr. Hirshon said the two have had a good relationship while negotiating some "ticklish issues."
Many conservatives view the ABA as liberal-leaning. The group has endorsed a moratorium on the death penalty and weighed in on a woman's right to have an abortion.
In addition to terrorism issues, the meeting agenda includes discussions on business scandals, cloning and Attorney General John Ashcroft's fight with Oregon over physician-assisted suicide.
Mr. Ashcroft addressed the group last year, but this year one of Mr. Ashcroft's deputies is the highest-ranking administration official scheduled to speak.
"The president's relationship with lawyers has always been a little bit tense," said Miami lawyer Neal R. Sonnett. "It's a missed opportunity for him to develop a closer relationship."

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