- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 21, 2004

In its argument that Justice Antonin Scalia should bow out of a Supreme Court case because he went duck hunting with Vice President Dick Cheney, the Sierra Club has been on something of a hunt itself.

It has been trying to bag Justice Scalia — or more precisely, to keep him from having a say the environmental group thinks might be opposite what it wants to hear.

The club’ s position, though, is a stretch and a half. Maybe its officials think hunting together bonds men irretrievably in matters large and small. Sometimes hunting creates enduring animosities, as when shotguns go off accidentally and some of the shot is lodged in human flesh.

On this particular multi-hunter hunt, we learn from Justice Scalia, the two men had precious little contact, leaving mainly the ducks to worry about the direction their shotguns pointed.

The deeper issue is whether friendships render judicial impartiality impossible in cases in which a friend has some interest in what the judge must help decide.

There are issues of degree here, but the first thing that needs to be said is justices do not materialize after confirmation as beings untouched by a host of opinions, a passel of passions and a wide sweep of associations and friendships. No judge joins the Supreme Court except through the beneficence of a political party, and as Justice Scalia notes, there is a long history of ongoing contact between these judges and members of Washington’s political community.

Hardly a case reaches the court, if any, in which most of the judges do not have some linkage of some kind that could be construed as interfering with objectivity.

For the most part, we trust the judges to be honest and professional, to do their best to recognize their biases and to act in accordance with logic and law.

he exceptions to such trust occur when the linkage is particularly strong and the stakes particularly high, but the present case does not fit that bill. It concerns disclosures about an energy task force Mr. Cheney headed. You can almost surely count on Justice Scalia to do what he usually does on the court — come to a clear-eyed conclusion.

While Justice Scalia refuses to remove himself from the case, the Sierra Club has bested him in a certain sense. Justice Scalia is on the defensive. He has gone so far as to compose a 21-page memo justifying his actions. Pressure is on him to decide against Mr. Cheney, and if he doesn’t, he will be portrayed as at least semi-corrupt, no matter how persuasive his explanation.

It is political and unfair, but Justice Scalia the hunter has himself been winged.

Jay Ambrose is chief editorial writer for Scripps Howard News Service.

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