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On Thursday, the United States Supreme Court announced that the subpoenas issued by three committees of the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives for President Donald Trump’s financial records will remain blocked.
The case was then sent back to a lower court for further review.
However, in a separate case on the same day, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that Trump is not immune from New York District Attorney Cyrus Vance’s subpoena seeking eight years of Trump’s business and personal tax returns from his accounting firm Mazars USA LLP.
However, this case was also sent back to a lower court for further review, with justices stating that Trump may choose to challenge the scope and relevance of Vance’s subpoena.
In both cases, Chief Justice John Roberts penned the majority opinion and was joined by the court’s four liberal justices and two Trump-appointed conservative Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch.
Justice Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas dissented from the ruling both times.
The House committees were not only seeking to access Trump’s personal and business tax records, but also information about Trump’s seven business entities and the personal accounts of his daughter Ivanka Trump and sons Eric and Donald Trump Jr.
The subpoenas have been issued to Trump’s accounting firm Mazars USA as well as two banks, Capital One Corp. and Deutsche Bank AG.
The committees are also investigating whether they should amend federal conflict of interest laws, laws regulating banks and financial disclosure laws, as well as looking into any instances of Russian money laundering and any cases of foreign influence over Trump.
The subpoenas come after Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen testified in Congress early last year that Trump inflated his total assets to seek loans but deflated them to reduce his real estate taxes. Unlike every other President since Jimmy Carter, Trump has not voluntarily released his tax records.
Writing the majority opinion, Roberts stressed the novelty of the situation, adding that the subpoenas raise “special concerns regarding separation of powers” between the three branches not considered by the lower US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
Roberts wrote that this case is “the first of its kind to reach this Court; that disputes of this sort can raise important issues concerning relations between the branches.”
He acknowledged that “related disputes involving congressional efforts to seek official executive branch information recur on a regular basis, including in the context of deeply partisan controversy.” But, Roberts added that “Congress and the Executive have nonetheless managed for over two centuries to resolve such disputes among themselves without the benefit of guidance from us.”
He wrote that the court would have to be “blind” not to see that “the subpoenas do not represent a run-of-the-mill legislative effort but rather a clash between rival branches of government over records of intense political interest for all involved.”
While the Supreme Court did acknowledge support for the investigative powers of Congress, it also stressed that limits on Congress’ authority must continue to exist.
It stated that while Congress can obtain sources other than Trump’s personal tax records if it needs to review general legislation on financial disclosure and federal conflict of interest, inquiries must be limited and clearly outlined to the lower courts on how those documents and reports would help reform the legislations.
This comes after Trump’s attorneys asked for “temporary presidential immunity” from Congress’ subpoena in May of this year, stating that it would be a burden to the president’s official duties.
The Supreme Court rejected the argument stating it would impede Congress’ power to conduct any investigations.
“The standards proposed by the President and the Solicitor General — if applied outside the context of privileged information — would risk seriously impeding Congress in carrying out its responsibilities.”
Dissenting from the ruling, Thomas stated, “I would reverse [the court’s decision] in full because the power to subpoena private, nonofficial documents is not a necessary implication of Congress’ legislative powers. If Congress wishes to obtain these documents, it should proceed through the impeachment power."
In Alito’s dissent, he stated that “legislative subpoenas for a president’s personal documents are inherently suspicious,” adding that the court majority should have imposed more requirements on the lower courts to evaluate the validity of the subpoenas.
House Democrats praised the Supreme Court’s assertion that Trump is not above the law but highlighted how the decision would allow the president to continue concealing his tax records while in office.
Texas Democratic Representative Lloyd Doggett as well as a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, which requested Trump’s tax returns said, “While defeated on his claim that he’s above the law, Trump is now beyond the law until after November. He may not be able to outrun the law, but he’s outrunning the clock.”
In response to the ruling, Trump’s attorney Jay Sekulow tweeted, “We are pleased that in the decisions issued today, the Supreme Court has temporarily blocked both Congress and New York prosecutors from obtaining the President’s financial records. We will now proceed to raise additional Constitutional and legal issues in the lower courts.”
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