Supreme Court Drops Hammer on Dems: House Cannot Access Trump’s Taxes
House of Representatives cannot demand tax returns from the president
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in Trump v. Mazars USA, LLP, that the House of Representatives cannot demand tax returns from President Donald Trump.
The ruling was the opposite of the result it reached in Trump v. Vance on the same day, saying New York City prosecutors can obtain his tax returns.
In Vance, the Court ruled that Trump is not above the law, and there is an increased standard for subpoenas of a sitting president.
But in Mazars, the Court ruled Democrats cannot just demand any documents it wants due to the separation of powers.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinions in both cases.
Trump’s appointees, Brett Kavanaugh and Justices Neil Gorsuch joined the majority.
The dissenters were Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito in both.
Mazars included a Democratic effort to get hold of Trump and his family's personal financial records by suing a private accounting firm.
Roberts summarized the case:
We have held that the House has authority under the Constitution to issue subpoenas to assist it in carrying out its legislative responsibilities. The House asserts that the financial information sought here—encompassing a decade’s worth of transactions by the President and his family—will help guide legislative reform in areas ranging from money laundering and terrorism to foreign involvement in U. S. elections. The President contends that the House lacked a valid legislative aim and instead sought these records to harass him, expose personal matters, and conduct law enforcement activities beyond its authority.
Such disputes between executive branches and the legislative were usually resolved through negotiation, but not through courts, he noted.
Roberts also noted that although Congress has no formal subpoena power, the Courts permitted it for legislative purposes.
However, Congress does not have subpoena power for the purposes of law enforcement, while their targets still retain constitutional rights, including executive branch prerogatives.
Though he rejected Trump's argument that there should be raised standards for subpoenas of the president, the President held separation-of-powers concerns, unlike an ordinary defendant.
Far from accounting for separation of powers concerns, the House’s approach aggravates them by leaving essentially no limits on the congressional power to subpoena the President’s personal records. Any personal paper possessed by a President could potentially “relate to” a conceivable subject of legislation, for Congress has broad legislative powers that touch a vast number of subjects. … Without limits on its subpoena powers, Congress could “exert an imperious controul” over the Executive Branch and aggrandize itself at the President’s expense, just as the Framers feared.
Roberts then listed considerations that lower courts needed to consider:
“First, courts should carefully assess whether the asserted legislative purpose warrants the significant step of involving the President and his papers.”
“Second, to narrow the scope of possible conflict between the branches, courts should insist on a subpoena no broader than reasonably necessary to support Congress’s legislative objective.”
“Third, courts should be attentive to the nature of the evidence offered by Congress to establish that a subpoena advances a valid legislative purpose.”
“Fourth, courts should be careful to assess the burdens imposed on the President by a subpoena.”
The case was remanded back to the lower courts for consideration of the House subpoena request with these in mind.