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U.S. opposes suit against Cheney

The Obama Administration has urged the Supreme Court not to revive a lawsuit claiming that former Vice President Cheney and other high-level Bush Administration officials illegally disclosed the identity of a secret agent in a dispute over the need for the U.S. to invade Iraq.  The government opposition brief, filed Monday in Plame Wilson, et al., v. Libby, et al. (08-1043), can be found here.

The former Central Intelligence Agency undercover operative, Valerie Plame Wilson, and her husband, former U.S. ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, sought to sue Cheney, the vice president’s former chief of staff I. Lewis Libby, Jr., former White House aide Karl Rove, and former State Department official Richard L. Armitage, seeking money damages for an alleged plot to discredit the Wilsons, deprive them of job opportunities, and put their safety at risk.  They claimed that the plot was in retaliation for Mr. Wilson’s public contradiction of part of the justification for invading Iraq in 2003. 

Their lawsuit was thrown out by the D.C. Circuit Court, so they took the case on to the Supreme Court in February.  The Supreme Court may act on the case before it recesses for the summer in late June.

In appealing to the Justices, the Wilsons contended that they should have a right to bring a claim of constitutional violations against Cheney and the others, because they have no other remedy under the law for the disclosure of her CIA status and the attempt to punish her husband for her public stance against the notion that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

The Obama Administration, adopting the same opposition arguments that were advanced by the Bush Administration and that persuaded the lower courts, contended that the federal Privacy Act is a broad form of protection for cases like this one, and that displaces any constitutional claim that the Wilsons might have persuaded the courts to provide — even if a Privacy Act claim could not go as far as a constitutional claim might.

The Privacy Act only authorizes money damages against federal agencies, not against individual federal officials. The Act also does not apply to the office of the vice president.

Congress was in a better position than the courts to decide the proper remedy for the alleged disclosures and actions involving the Wilsons, the government brief asserted.

Moreover, the brief argued, the lower courts in dismissing the Wilsons’ lawsuit were properly concerned that, if the case went forward, it would run the risk of judicial intrusion into highly sensitive areas about how secret agents operate.