The 2019-2020 term Supreme Court Opinion Machine shuts down after today, and on the final day of this round of 9 lawyers tell us what sh*t means, they let loose with a split decision on the President’s personal papers. His tax returns. Congress wants them (nope!), and so does the NYC DA’s office (Yup).
There is a caveat to the ‘yup’ which is why my title says, no and maybe. Also, no unanimous agreement here but no close decisions in either instance.
IN TRUMP ET AL. v. MAZARS USA, LLP House Democrats issued subpoenas for the Presidents’ personal records.
This was another volley by the Left to grab and expose President Trump’s financial records for partisan political purpose. The Supreme’s used a lot of words to say what amounts to this.
When Congress seeks information “needed for intelligent legislative action,” it “unquestionably” remains “the duty of all citizens to cooperate.” Watkins, 354 U. S., at 187 (emphasis added). Congressional subpoenas for information from the President, however, implicate special concerns regarding the separation of powers.
In the absence of specific legislative purpose demands by Congress for the personal papers of the President violate Separation of Powers. Sorry, you can’t have them, and lower courts should proceed based on the lengthy details in the decision regarding all future efforts. There are a lot of details.
This second one is being sold by most in the media as a Trump “must hand them over” ruling, but I don’t think it’s that clear. The decision is that he cannot claim absolute immunity (as President) to withhold personal documents for the NY DA, or in this case, his tax returns. But it does not compel him to produce anything while detailing that he has other options to prevent the release.
Two hundred years ago, a great jurist of our Court established that no citizen, not even the President, is categorically above the common duty to produce evidence when called upon in a criminal proceeding. We reaffirm that principle today and hold that the President is neither absolutely immune from state criminal subpoenas seeking his private papers nor entitled to a heightened standard of need. The “guard furnished to this high officer” lies where it always has—in “the conduct of a court” applying established legal and Constitutional principles to individual subpoenas in a manner that preserves both the independence of the Executive and the integrity of the criminal justice system. Burr, 25 F. Cas., at 34.
The arguments presented here and in the Court of Appeals were limited to absolute immunity and heightened need. The Court of Appeals, however, has directed that the case be returned to the District Court, where the President may raise further arguments as appropriate.
Added (the end of the sentence in the above pull quote – which I left out, and more below because it bears relevance to my point that he is not being compelled to release his tax returns). Citations removed.
Rejecting a heightened need standard does not leave Presidents without recourse. A President may avail himself of the same protections available to every other citizen, including the right to challenge the subpoena on any grounds permitted by state law, which usually include bad faith and undue burden or breadth. When the President invokes such protections, “[t]he high respect that is owed to the office of the Chief Executive . . . should inform the conduct of the entire proceeding, including the timing and scope of discovery.” In addition, a President can raise subpoena-specific constitutional challenges in either a state or a federal forum. As noted above, he can challenge the subpoena as an attempt to influence the performance of his official duties, in violation of the Supremacy Clause. And he can argue that compliance with a particular subpoena would impede his constitutional duties.
The ruling does not immediately result in the President needing to turn over anything. In the opinion, and with great detail, Mr. Trump has myriad other options for delaying the release, all of which we assume he will pursue.
It is not a win for Mr. Trump though it is certainly a win for justice in General. But it is also not a loss. The President cannot claim absolute immunity concerning a state’s criminal cases. Still, he can proceed within the law to rightly challenge any part or all of the reasoning behind the investigation or its motivations, which is a right we all have, if not necessarily to the resources to pursue them effectively.
Mr. Trump has the resources, so the matter is not at an end, only at a new beginning.
The complete decisions, for those interested, are available at the embedded links above.