The Supreme Court on Thursday delivered split opinions in two cases over whether President Donald Trump can shield his tax records from investigators, handing a win to the Manhattan district attorney but rejecting parallel efforts by Democrats in the House of Representatives.
Both cases were decided 7-2, with Chief Justice John Roberts authoring the court’s opinion and joined in the majority by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch. Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented in both cases.
Both cases are subject to further review by lower courts.
The decisions mark the first time that the nation’s highest court has directly ruled on a matter involving Trump’s personal dealings. Trump has been more secretive with his finances than any president in decades, refusing to release his tax records to the public even as he mounts a bid for reelection.
The cases were decided on the final day of the Supreme Court’s term, which began last October and was extended past its typical end-of-June conclusion as a result of precautions taken against the spreading coronavirus.
“In our judicial system, ‘the public has a right to every man’s evidence.’ Since the earliest days of the Republic, ‘every man’ has included the President of the United States,” Roberts wrote in the New York case.
That case stemmed from an investigation being pursued by Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. Vance issued a subpoena to Trump’s longtime accounting firm, Mazars, for a wide variety of Trump’s personal and business records, including tax returns, dating back to 2011.
Vance’s office is investigating the hush money payments that Trump allegedly facilitated to two women ahead of the 2016 election, though the purpose for his subpoenas is relatively opaque.
The women have claimed to have had sexual relationships with the president that he has denied. Vance hasn’t said whether Trump is a suspect in his investigation, and he has not indicated any potential charges.
Trump’s attorneys have pushed for an expansive view of presidential immunity in the case.
In one lower court hearing in New York, an attorney for the president said that Trump would theoretically be immune from investigation even if he shot someone on New York’s Fifth Avenue. During the 2016 campaign, Trump claimed that he could “stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.”
In a statement, Vance called Thursday’s 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 said.
The congressional cases involved subpoenas issued by Democratic-led committees of the House of Representatives, which sought financial records from Mazars as well as his banks, Capital One and Deutsche Bank.
“This case is different,” Roberts wrote in the opinion handed down Thursday. “Here the President’s information is sought not by prosecutors or private parties in connection with a particular judicial proceeding, but by committees of Congress that have set forth broad legislative objectives.”
“Congress and the President—the two political branches established by the Constitution—have an ongoing relationship that the Framers intended to feature both rivalry and reciprocity,” Roberts wrote.
The House Oversight Committee sought out the information in connection with investigations into claims made by the president’s former lawyer Michael Cohen that Trump inflated and deflated his assets to suit his needs.
The oversight panel is also investigating Trump’s failure to disclose a $130,000 hush money payment that he owed to the adult film actress Stormy Daniels on his 2017 disclosure form. The Office of Government Ethics has said that Trump should have listed the debt — which he owed to Cohen, for facilitating the payment — as a liability.
The financial services and intelligence committees issued two separate subpoenas to Deutsche Bank seeking information on the president and members of his family, including his children Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump, and Ivanka Trump. A third subpoena, from the financial services committee, asked Capital One for a wide variety of information on 15 Trump businesses.
The financial services committee is investigating potential foreign money laundering. Rep. Adam Schiff, the chairman of the intelligence committee, has said his committee’s investigation entails uncovering whether “any foreign actor has sought to compromise or holds leverage, financial or otherwise, over Donald Trump, his family, his business, or his associates.”
Lower courts in New York and Washington upheld the subpoenas, but the president asked the justices to reverse those rulings.
The consolidated congressional cases are Trump v. Mazars, No. 19-715 and Trump v. Deutsche Bank, No. 19-760. The New York case is Trump v. Vance, No. 19-635.
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