The President's Commission on the Celebration of the Bicentennial of the Constitution was sued yesterday to open its meetings to the public.
The suit, filed by the Ralph Nader-founded group Public Citizen, charged the commission is a federal advisory committee and thus must hold open meetings. It said the panel must make its records, transcripts and working papers available for public inspection and so far has failed to do so.
A spokeswoman for Chief Justice Warren Burger, who chairs the commission, said there would be no comment on the suit.
The commission barred the public from its first session in July at the Supreme Court and also closed an August meeting in Salt Lake City. Only one session, held on Sept. 17, was open to the public.
Before filing the suit, attorney Patti Goldman said Public Citizen wrote the commission's staff director, Mark Cannon, asking that the meetings be open and seeking all documents from previous meetings.
Goldman said Cannon responded yesterday that the commission is not covered by the Federal Advisory Committee Act.
"Our position is influenced by the common experience that free exploration and exchange of ideas, particularly by members of a commission of this kind, would be inhibited if all the meetings were open to the general public and media -- where, in those situations, any part of any statement can be widely broadcast, and perhaps not in the context that was intended by the speaker," Goldman quoted Cannon's letter as stating.