- The Supreme Court on Thursday struck down President Donald Trump’s efforts to stop New York investigators from subpoenaing his taxes and financial documents.
- The court ruled 7-2 in favour of the Manhattan district attorney’s office, which subpoenaed the president’s tax returns as it investigates whether he or his business violated state laws.
- In a separate 7-2 ruling, the court also determined that Congress has the power to subpoena the president’s financial records, but it sent the matter down to the lower courts to assess “significant separation of powers concerns.”
- In both cases, Chief Justice John Roberts delivered the majority opinion, in which Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan joined.
- Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch filed a concurring opinion in the judgment against Trump tied to his fight against releasing his tax returns and financial records, while Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito filed dissenting opinions in both cases.
- Although the rulings are a legal blow to Trump’s long-running efforts to shield his records from investigators, they don’t necessarily mean Congress, investigators or the public will see his taxes or other revealing financial information any time soon.
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The Supreme Court on Thursday struck down President Donald Trump’s efforts to stop New York investigators from obtaining his financial records, a blockbuster ruling that gives Manhattan prosecutors the green light to continue probing the president while he is still in the White House.
In Trump v. Vance, the court ruled 7-2 in favour of Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance’s efforts to subpoena Trumps’s tax returns and other financial materials as part of a wider investigation into whether the president or his business violated state laws.
Separately, the court also decided against Trump in another case in which the president sued his accounting firm and bank to stop them from complying with congressional subpoenas for his financial records.
The justices’ 7-2 opinion in the second case, Trump v. Mazars USA, found that Congress has the power to subpoena the president’s financial records. But the Supreme Court punted on more fundamental questions about the validity of the specific demands that House Democrats have made by sending their case back down to the lower federal court in Washington, DC, to assess “separation of powers concerns.”
In both cases, Chief Justice John Roberts delivered the majority opinions, in which Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagain joined. Notably, the Trump-appointed associate justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch filed a concurring opinion in the judgment against the president tied to his fight against releasing his tax returns and financial records to the New York prosecutors.
Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito filed dissenting opinions in both cases.
Though both rulings are a major blow to the president’s longrunning efforts to shield his financial records from investigators, they do not necessarily mean the New York investigators, Congress, or the public will gain access to them any time soon, especially before the November election.
Court rejects Trump’s ‘absolute immunity’ claim
During oral arguments for Trump v. Vance in May, the president’s personal lawyer, Jay Sekulow, made a broad and unprecedented claim that Trump is immune from any criminal investigation or prosecution while in office.
Roberts’ majority opinion in the case on Thursday drove home how little traction Trump had in making the absolute immunity claim.
“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,” the chief justice wrote. “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 22-page majority opinion in Trump v. Vance also made it clear that Trump can still raise constitutional and legal objections to subpoenas in court, which Kavanaugh and Gorsuch emphasised in their concurring opinions.
“In our system of government, as this Court has often stated, no one is above the law,” the two newest members of the Supreme Court explained in their ruling. “That principle applies, of course, to a President. At the same time, in light of Article II of the Constitution, this Court has repeatedly declared- and the Court indicates again today-that a court may not proceed against a President as it would against an ordinary litigant.”
Vance’s subpoena seeks eight years of the president’s tax returns from his accounting firm as part of an investigation into hush money payments to the adult film star Stormy Daniels, who has alleged an affair with Trump. In a statement Thursday, Vance called the Supreme Court decision “a tremendous victory for our nation’s system of justice and its founding principle that no one – not even a president – is above the law.”
“Our investigation, which was delayed for almost a year by this lawsuit, will resume, guided as always by the grand jury’s solemn obligation to follow the law and the facts, wherever they may lead,” Vance added.
Supreme Court says Trump can’t avoid congressional subpoenas but tosses the matter to lower courts for review
Meanwhile, the president’s lawyers had argued in Trump v. Mazars USA that the congressional subpoenas do not serve a legitimate legislative purpose and are instead intended to harass Trump.
Roberts’ majority opinion rejected the idea Trump can avoid authorised demands for documents from lawmakers. But it also outlined several considerations that lower courts must weigh before determining if such subpoenas are valid. That includes a review of whether the subpoena actually serves a specific legislative purpose as well as the effect the demand would have on a president.
“We have held that burdens on the President’s time and attention stemming from judicial process and litigation, without more, generally do not cross constitutional lines,” Roberts wrote. “But burdens imposed by a congressional subpoena should be carefully scrutinised, for they stem from a rival political branch that has an ongoing relationship with the President and incentives to use subpoenas for institutional advantage.”
“Other considerations may be pertinent as well; one case every two centuries does not afford enough experience for an exhaustive list,” Roberts’ added.
From Capitol Hill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said a “careful reading” of the two Supreme Court decisions “is not good news for President Trump.” She highlighted the top-line portion of the ruling in the House oversight case that says lawmakers can keep on pressing for the president’s financial records.
“Congress’s constitutional responsibility to uncover the truth continues, specifically related to the President’s Russia connection that he is hiding,” she added. “The Congress will continue to conduct oversight For The People, upholding the separation of powers that is the genius of our Constitution. We will continue to press our case in the lower courts.”
While on the losing end of the two decisions, Trump attorney Jay Sekulow in a statement pointed out that no materials from the president will be immediately turned over to investigators and that they can keep fighting point by point against specific record requests.
“We will now proceed to raise additional Constitutional and legal issues in the lower courts,” he said.