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Trump v. Vance and Trump v. Mazars
Thursday, 2020 July 9 - 11:41 am
Today there were two monumental Supreme Court decisions, both of them related to investigations of the Trump's financial records. I'm breaking my long blogging absence to do a detailed breakdown of what the decisions mean.

First, here are links to the decisions, courtesy of SCOTUSBlog:

Trump v. Vance
Trump v. Mazars

Trump v. Vance
This case concerns the right of a grand jury in the New York state judicial system to subpoena private financial records of the President and his businesses.

The first line of Roberts' opinion: "In our judicial system, 'the public has a right to every manís evidence.'" That's a pretty powerful statement. The Vance decision categorically rejects all of Trump's assertions of immunity against investigative actions. Trump had argued that the New York prosecutors' subpoenas were invalid because they were a diversion, a stigma, and harassment. The decision rejected all of those claims, and thankfully, upholds the sacred concept that the President is not above the law.

The lower courts had upheld the validity of the subpoenas. The Supreme Court decision affirms and remands this case to the lower court. What does that mean? Well, since the decision is affirmed, the grand jury subpoena process may continue. But the Supreme Court opened the way to other types of challenges that could be presented to fight the subpoenas, and you can certainly expect Trump to raise those challenges immediately. But those challenges are unlikely to succeed, and the courts will be skeptical of such challenges since they were not raised to begin with. So the real question here is whether Trump will be able to run out the clock by convincing a court to issue a stay against the subpoenas that would last until after the election.

Trump v. Mazars
This case concerns the right of the House of Representatives to subpoena the private financial records of the President, his children, and his businesses.

This opinion is a bit less dramatic, both in its language and its outcome. But it's still important. It squashes Trump's arguments that the President is absolutely immune from House subpoenas, but it also squashes the House's arguments that just about anything can meet the standard of being a "valid legislative purpose" to justify a subpoena.

Roberts creates a four-factor test for courts to determine the legitimacy of a Congressional subpoena:
  • Is there another way Congress could get the information it needs?
  • Is the subpoena as narrow as it could be?
  • Did Congress supply enough "detailed and substantial" evidence that the legislative purpose is valid?
  • Does the subpoena impose too many burdens on the President?

The lower courts' opinions upholding the subpoenas were vacated (but not reversed, as dissenting justice Clarence Thomas would have ruled). That means that a new proceeding must occur, and the House will likely be required to both provide more justifications for the subpoenas, and to narrow the scope of the subpoenas. That shouldn't present too much of an obstacle for House Democrats, but the new subpoenas will again be challenged in court, and those challenges will again probably work their way up the appeals courts and land back in the Supreme Court. By the time that happens, Trump will (hopefully) have lost the election, so this particular case will become moot.

Trump v. Democracy, Decency, and Humanity
In a sense, you might say that these are Trump victories because in both cases, the disclosure of his financial records might be delayed until past the 2020 election. But here's the thing: either Trump loses the election even without his financial records becoming public, or Trump wins the election but the eventual disclosure of his records opens the way for more impeachment proceedings. What if the records show real criminal wrongdoing, or worse, treason? Even Republican senators might be compelled to say enough is enough.

More importantly, these two decisions uphold the foundational idea that the President is not above the law. The worst thing that could have happened was that the Court could have upheld the idea of "temporary immunity" for the President so long as he was in office, and that literally could have meant the end of American democracy as we know it. So yeah, there'll be more delays and legislations and we might not ever see Trump's tax returns. But this is definitively a win for the country and for the people. We are not a kingdom. We are still a country that is governed by the rule of law, and the President is not above that law. Let's celebrate that.
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Posted by Ken in: politics


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