The Supreme Court ruled that President Donald Trump cannot withhold his financial records from federal prosecutors, but ruled that congressional subpoenas for other records could not go forward in two decisions Thursday.
The first of the two rulings is a defeat for Trump, who has fought the release of his records throughout his term. Despite the 7-2 ruling, Trump’s records may be shielded from public scrutiny until after the election, The New York Times reported.
In a separate ruling, the Supreme Court denied House Democrats’ attempted access to Trump’s records in order to examine possible conflicts of interest in a 7-2 ruling that broke along the same lines as the first. Chief Justice John Roberts, who delivered the majority opinion, said that the lower courts had not sufficiently addressed reasonable concerns regarding the separation of powers outlined in the Constitution, The New York Times reported.
Roberts was joined in both decisions the court’s liberal wing: Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor. Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, both Trump appointees, sided with the majority with concurring opinions. Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented.
BREAKING: Trump can’t block release of his financial records to NY prosecutors but lower courts must take another look at whether Congress may see them.
— Adam Liptak (@adamliptak) July 9, 2020
In the first case, Roberts wrote that “no citizen, not even the president, is categorically above the common duty to produce evidence when called upon in a criminal proceeding.”
Federal prosecutors for the Southern District of New York, led by Democratic Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, had originally sought records from Trump’s accountants instead of the president himself. The firms involved indicated that they would comply with the Supreme Court’s ruling, according to The New York Times.
“This is 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,” Vance said, responding to the ruling in his favor.
Attacking the ruling in the first case, Trump tweeted that “this is all political prosecution.”
Courts in the past have given “broad deference”. BUT NOT ME!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 9, 2020
In both cases, Trump’s lawyers had argued that he immune from all criminal investigations for the duration of his time in office, and that Congress had no legislative need for his records, The New York Times reported.
Trump’s defeat follows those seen in lower courts, which had also ruled against his efforts to shield his financial statements. Last year, the United States Court of Appeals for the 2nd circuit unanimously ruled that prosecutors could lawfully require third parties to turn over a sitting president’s financial records if required as part of a grand jury investigation.
The ruling echoes previous cases regarding the scope of presidential authority, namely those pertaining to Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton. In 1974, the court ruled that Nixon had to hand over incriminating tapes of his Oval Office conversations, and in 1997, the court ruled that Clinton was required to provide evidence in a sexual harassment lawsuit. Both rulings were unanimous.