Courts On the Hill

Supreme Court Rules in Trump Financial Records Subpoena Cases

On Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled on two cases concerning subpoenas of the president – affirming that the president does not have absolute immunity. The court concluded that the president can be subpoenaed by a grand jury, but that there are limitations on congressional subpoenas to the executive branch.

Both subpoenas in question sought Trump’s financial records from before he took office, and we issued directly to his accountant and bank firms. The firms agreed to comply with the subpoenas, but Trump himself blocked the investigations – claiming immunity.

The coupled cases received a vote of 7-2, with Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Anthony Breyer, Neil Gorsuch, and Brett Kavanaugh making up the majority. Justices Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Clarence Thomas dissented.

The first case, Trump v. Vance, concerned a subpoena made by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. to Trump’s accounting firm: Mazars USA. The subpoena attempted to obtain eight years of personal tax and business records. It is a part of an investigation by the district attorney’s office into hush money paid by Trump and the Trump campaign to women before the 2016 election. In this case, the court rejected Trump’s immunity reasoning to prevent these records from being obtained.

The second case, Trump v Mazars USA LLP & Trump v. Deutsche Bank AG, concerned subpoenas made by the House Financial Services, Government Oversight, and Intelligence committees. The subpoenas were made to uncover information regarding hush-money payments, asset descriptions, and financial records. In this case, the court returned it to the lower courts after outlining a need for limits on congressional subpoena power. This means that Congress does have the authority to subpoena the president, but that the Supreme Court believes that authority must be limited – citing power concerns.

This also means that Trump’s financial records will not be made public before the November 2020 presidential election.

This Supreme Court ruling protected the precedent and tradition of previous presidential litigations. In 1997 the Court decided that President Bill Clinton was not immune to a sexual harassment lawsuit, and in 1994 ruled that President Richard Nixon must release subpoenaed tape recordings to a grand jury. Chief Justice John Roberts specifically used the subpoena of President Thomas Jefferson during the Burr trial as evidence against Trump.

In the decision, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote: “In our system, the public has a right to every man’s evidence…. [and] since the founding of the Republic, every man has included the President of the United States.”

Sources: New York Times 07/10, The Washington Post 07/10, NPR 07/10, Roll Call 07/10, SCOTUSBlog 07/10

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