House Democrats will get their day in court on Monday as a federal judge hears oral arguments in a groundbreaking lawsuit over the limits of executive privilege.
Irv Nathan, the House general counsel, will present the Judiciary Committee’s case in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia as the panel seeks to enforce subpoenas to White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and former White House Counsel Harriet Miers.
The Judiciary Committee issued subpoenas last year to Bolten and Miers as part of the panel's investigation into the firing of nine U.S. attorneys in 2006. Judiciary Committee Democrats are seeking information from on the White House's role in the firings, but President Bush, asserting executive privilege, has refused to make senior aides available for questioing under oath by congressional investigators or turn over a "privilege log" of documents being withheld.
House lawyers argue that, in refusing to allow Bolten and Miers to even appear before the Judiciary Committee in order to assert executive privilege, the Bush administration is seeking to expand presidential power in a dramatic fashion, one that cannot go unchallenged by Congress
Carl J. Nichols, the principal deputy associate attorney general, will argue the case for the White House. The Justice Department, representing Bolten and Miers, claim that the president has "absolute immunity" in resisting subpoenas issued to top aides.
A number of watchdog groups have filed briefs in support of the House Judiciary Committee, while House Republicans have filed a brief arguing that the issue is not yet ready for judicial review and the Democrats' lawsuit should be dismissed.
District Judge John Bates, a Bush appointee, has agreed to expedite the case as Democrats seek a decision by August in order to finish their probe before Congress adjourns for the year. However, legal experts believe the side that loses on the distrrict court level will appeal the ruling, meaning the case is unlikely to be decided before Bush leaves office in January 2009.