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Scalia's hunting trip brings questions

His outing with Cheney and others stirs critics

MORGAN CITY, La. -- For many hunters, duck season in the swamps of Louisiana means an outing with a pickup and a six-pack. For Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and Vice President Dick Cheney, it was a little different.

The two men arrived near this coastal town in a US government jet, then were whisked away in a motorcade with police lights flashing to the elaborate floating hunting camp of a multimillionaire oil-services tycoon, a longtime friend of Scalia's.

A panoply of Secret Service and local law enforcement guarded the hunting party, and though the shooting was poor, the "strictly social" occasion, as participant Louis Prejean described it, was enjoyable.

But last month's trip has raised growing questions about the propriety of a Supreme Court justice going on a hunt with Cheney at the same time Scalia was hearing a case involving the vice president.

Congressional Democrats and newspaper editorials have called for Scalia to step down from the case, which has to do with whether Cheney must reveal who serves on his energy task force. Further complicating the question: The host of the hunting trip is a prominent member of the energy industry.

Scalia has declined to recuse himself, saying he remains impartial. He likened the hunting trip to a White House dinner.

Kevin Kellems, Cheney's press secretary, said Scalia's objectivity is "really a question that the Supreme Court officials are in better position to answer. This is really, at its core, a question about how the court operates, what their rules are and so forth."

Stephen Gillers, a law professor at New York University, said it would be "an easy call" for Scalia to disqualify himself because Cheney apparently paid at least some of the justice's expenses.

"He has to set an example of what conduct is acceptable. Taking a gift from a litigant in a case before you and taking a trip with that litigant in a small group" is not acceptable, Gillers said.

Several people in the party, including host Wallace Carline and Prejean, declined to discuss the trip into the marshland at the edge of the Gulf of Mexico. But this was no ordinary hunting trip.

After landing Jan. 5, the party hurried out of a small blue-and-white jet marked "United States of America" and ducked straight into vehicles that had been flown down separately. With flashing lights that illuminated the rainy afternoon, the caravan made its way south to Carline's camp in the marshes.

There, Scalia and Cheney joined a group of about nine, the justice has said. Among them were relatives of Carline's son-in-law, Mike Swiber, who works for Carline's Diamond Services Corp., which provides barges, tugs, and dredging equipment. "I have no comments, no comments at all," Swiber said. "It's over."

Carline's place on the marsh is more a boat than a camp. A Carline competitor and friend, Doyle Berry, described it as a barge about 150 feet by 50 feet that anchors wherever the hunting is best. On top is a houselike structure.

"It's a big camp, lovely camp," said another friend, local Republican lawyer Al Lippman.

Carline, a member of the local port authority, created his fortune from scratch more than four decades ago, friends said.

"He's a very private-type individual," Lippman said. He is also, apparently, a registered Democrat: The only Wallace Carline in the parish is so listed, according to a local voting official.

Scalia, an avid hunter, is a frequent visitor to Louisiana. His hunting companion is often Prejean, a state worker for the disabled and the brother of Sister Helen Prejean, the anti-death-penalty activist and author of "Dead Man Walking." In an interview, she has described confronting Scalia about his support for the death penalty.

The vice president left after two days, while Scalia stayed two more days.

Berry, echoing others here, said locals were just "honored the vice president came down and hunted." But legal analysts elsewhere said it is not that simple.

"The fact is that the vice president is not a nominal party to this litigation. He has a strong personal and political interest in the result. That's the long and the short of it for me," Gillers said.

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