Court Rejects Administration Appeal to Stop Energy Task Force Lawsuit

A federal appeals court on Tuesday dismissed an appeal filed by government lawyers trying to stop a lawsuit delving into Vice President Dick Cheney (search)'s contacts with energy industry executives and lobbyists.

Two of the three judges on the appeals court panel said they would not intervene at this time to stop the lawsuit filed by the environmental group Sierra Club (search)  and conservative watchdog Judicial Watch (search) to learn about meetings of the energy task force.

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan earlier ruled that the two groups may be entitled to limited amounts of information about meetings Cheney and his aides had with the energy industry in formulating the White House's energy plan.

"Their legal challenges to the district court's refusal to proceed on the basis of the administrative record and to dismiss the vice president can be fully addressed, untethered by anything we have said here, on appeal following final judgment,'' wrote U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Judge David Tatel, a Clinton appointee. Judge Harry Edwards concurred.

Tatel rejected administration arguments that the lawsuit is an unwarranted intrusion on the internal deliberations of the executive branch of government and said that the administration can "invoke executive or any other privilege" it wants to keep papers out of the public eye.

Tatel wrote that neither Cheney nor the administration have satisfied "the heavy burden" required for the court to intervene.

The court said administration officials must list any documents it intends to withhold from the proceedings. Tatel and Edwards also refused to intervene in a lower court judge's refusal to dismiss Cheney as a defendant in the case.

Judge A. Raymond Randolph dissented. Randolph wrote that "for the judiciary to permit this sort of discovery" into the actions of the executive branch "strikes me as a violation of the separation of powers."

Federal agencies have disclosed 39,000 pages of internal documents related to the work of Cheney's energy task force, material that so far has yielded nothing.

The energy plan adopted four months after President Bush took office favored opening more public lands to oil and gas drilling and proposed a wide range of other steps supported by industry.

Fox News' Anna Stolley and the Associated Press contributed to this report.