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Private Sessions of Constitution Panel Approved

United Press International

The commission created to drum up public interest in the 200th birthday of the Constitution can continue holding its meetings behind closed doors, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.

The ruling, by U.S. District Judge Louis Oberdorfer, hinged on the technical question of whether the commission, headed by Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, is an advisory committee under federal law and thereby required to hold its meetings in public. The judge found the commission was not an advisory committee.

The Commission on the Bicentennial of the United States Constitution has been criticized for holding closed-door meetings. So far the commission has held five days of meetings across the country. The public has been barred from four of those, and two more sessions, set for Sunday and Monday, are to be closed.

‘Misses Big Issue’

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Patti Goldman, an attorney with the Public Citizen Litigation Group that brought the suit to win public access to the meetings, said Oberdorfer’s opinion “misses the big issue, which is, ‘What is this board doing that should be secret?’ ”

“It doesn’t make sense that this body should exclude the public,” she added.

Goldman said the nonprofit litigation group, founded by Ralph Nader, had not yet decided whether to appeal the ruling.

A spokesman said the commission had no comment on the ruling.

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Commission’s Goal

The major goal of the commission, created by an act of Congress, is to inform the public about the Constitution and its importance in securing basic freedoms in preparation for the 200th anniversary of the signing of the document--the supreme law of the land--in 1987.

The commission, in its first report to Congress, called for creation of a one-time national holiday on Constitution Day, Sept. 17, 1987, and asked for authorization to produce coins and medals and to use the official emblem of the bicentennial to raise money.


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