The Bush administration is challenging a court ruling that White House visitor logs are public documents, saying releasing the records would infringe on the separation of powers.
White House documents are normally exempt from public records laws, but a federal judge ruled in December that Secret Service visitor logs must be released. The court sided with a liberal watchdog group that sought records showing visits by prominent religious conservatives to the White House and Vice President Dick Cheney's residence.
The Bush administration appealed and lawyers were scheduled to argue the case Monday before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
Government lawyers argue the president and vice president must be able to receive visitors and solicit advice privately. They portrayed the request for Secret Service records as an end-around, saying those same logs maintained by the White House would never be considered public documents.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington wants to use the Secret Service documents to show the influence religious conservatives have on the Bush administration. The government argues that proves the records are related to the White House, not to the workings of the Secret Service, and should not be released.
"The prospect of each and every appointment record immediately becoming the subject of forced public disclosure would surely cast a chill over the ability of the president and vice president to collect information and advice," Justice Department lawyers wrote in court documents.
CREW lawyers reject that argument. They say the documents shouldn't be considered White House records simply because a watchdog group is trying to find out what the White House is up to. The Secret Service created and controlled the documents, the lawyers said, so they should be public.