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Trump v. Vance

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Trump v. Vance
Argued May 12, 2020
Decided July 9, 2020
Full case nameDonald J. Trump v. Cyrus R. Vance, Jr.
Docket no.19-635
Citations591 U.S. ___ (more)
140 S. Ct. 2412; 207 L. Ed. 2d 907; 2020 WL 3848062; 2020 U.S. LEXIS 3552.
Holding
Article II and the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution do not categorically preclude or require a heightened standard for the issuance of a state criminal subpoena to a sitting president.
Court membership
Chief Justice
John Roberts
Associate Justices
Clarence Thomas · Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Stephen Breyer · Samuel Alito
Sonia Sotomayor · Elena Kagan
Neil Gorsuch · Brett Kavanaugh
Case opinions
MajorityRoberts, joined by Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, Kagan
ConcurrenceKavanaugh (in judgment), joined by Gorsuch
DissentThomas
DissentAlito
Laws applied
U.S. Const. art. VI § 2
U.S. Const. art. II

Trump v. Vance, 591 U.S. ___ (2020), was a landmark[1][2] US Supreme Court case arising from a subpoena issued in August 2019 by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. against Mazars, then-President Donald Trump's accounting firm, for Trump's tax records and related documents, as part of his ongoing investigation into the Stormy Daniels scandal. Trump commenced legal proceedings to prevent their release.

The Court held that Article II and the Supremacy Clause of the US Constitution do not categorically preclude or require a heightened standard for the issuance of a state criminal subpoena to a sitting president.[3] The 7–2 decision was issued in July 2020, with Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas dissenting.[1]

Background

After Donald Trump indicated his intent to run for US president as a Republican candidate, he was called upon to release his income tax returns in the public interest, as most other presidential candidates did. Trump had stated in his campaign that he would release them once they had been "worked on."[4] After his election victory and taking office in 2017, Trump refused to give over his tax records and stated that voters were not interested in them.[5]

The Democratic Party gained control of the US House of Representatives in the 2018 midterm elections, and by April 2019, the House Ways and Means Committee had formally requested from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) six years of Trump's returns, a power vested in Congress under 26 U.S.C. § 6103.[6][7][8] The IRS failed to comply with the request. Both the Ways and Means Committee and the House Committee on Oversight and Reform filed subpoenas to Mazars, Trump's accounting firm, to obtain the tax information. The Trump administration refused to comply with the subpoenas and asserted that they lacked "a legitimate legislative purpose."[9][10][11] However, those subpoenas were directed at Mazars and later at Deutsche Bank and Capital One, where Trump had accounts, and those entities had indicated they would comply with the subpoenas. Trump then tried to block the subpoenas, which led to two separate suits, Trump v. Mazars USA, LLP and Trump et al. v. Deutsche Bank AG, which were consolidated under the Trump v. Mazars suit by the Supreme Court in its 2019 term.

District Court

Separately, as part of the city's ongoing criminal investigation into the Stormy Daniels scandal, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. in August 2019 subpoenaed Mazars for Trump's tax returns.[12][13] Trump filed suit against the district attorney and Mazars in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York to block the subpoena arguing that a sitting president enjoys "absolute immunity from criminal process of any kind."[13]

Prosecutors countered that Trump had "sweeping immunity" from a criminal probe while he was in office and that Trump was "seeking to invent and enforce a new presidential 'tax return privilege,' on the theory that disclosing information in a tax return will necessarily reveal information that will somehow impede the functioning of a President, sufficiently to meet the test of irreparable harm."[14][15]

The District Court dismissed the case on the basis of Younger v. Harris (1971), which had stated federal courts should abstain in the matters of tort claims being brought by the person who was prosecuted by those claims. As such, the District Court ordered Trump to comply with the subpoena, pending a ruling from the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.[13][16]

Second Circuit

The Second Circuit panel ruled unanimously against Trump in November 2019. The decision stated that the president is not immune from "the enforcement of a state grand jury subpoena directing a third party to produce non-privileged material, even when the subject matter under investigation pertains to the President" and that a state grand jury may issue subpoenas "in aid of its investigation of potential crimes committed by persons within its jurisdiction, even if that investigation may in some way implicate the President."[17][18]

Supreme Court

Trump petitioned to the US Supreme Court on the Second Circuit's ruling to the New York district attorney subpoena as well as in the separate cases related to the House Committee subpoenas. The Supreme Court certified all three cases in December 2019 by consolidating the two House Committee cases into Trump v. Mazars and handling the New York case under Trump v. Vance separately.[19]

Oral arguments were held on May 12, 2020, alongside the Trump v. Mazars arguments, both as part of the set of cases held through teleconference because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Observers recognized that the Justices treated Vance, which involved a subpoena related to a grand jury criminal investigation, and Mazars, involving subpoenas related to a Congressional investigation, very differently and expected there to be different results between the cases, with Vance likely to favor the release of the tax records. Justices also spoke of possibly sending both cases to the lower courts with a set of standards to evaluate the subpoena requests.[20]

Majority opinion

The Court released its decision on July 9, 2020 by affirming the decision of the Second Circuit and remanding the case for continued review. The 7–2 decision affirmed that absolute immunity to the president is not granted by the Supremacy Clause or Article II of the Constitution.[21] Through those principles, the Court also held that the president enjoys no absolute immunity from state criminal subpoenas directed at his private papers and that he is not entitled to a heightened standard for the issuance of such a subpoena.[22] Instead, Trump can rely on the defenses that are available to everyone else like overbreadth and unwarranted harassment.[23] In remanding the case to the District Court, the Court's order stated that "the President may raise further arguments as appropriate" to challenge the subpoena.[24] In evaluating those arguments judges should be "meticulous" according to the Court, but "this does not mean they should use a stricter standard in evaluating them."[23]

The majority opinion was written by Chief Justice John Roberts and joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan. Roberts wrote that former Chief Justice John Marshall established the principle 200 years earlier that no citizen, including the president, may escape the common duty to produce evidence when he is called upon during a criminal proceeding.[25] Roberts wrote, "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."[26]

Concurring opinion

Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote a concurring opinion joined by Neil Gorsuch. Kavanaugh wrote that he would have held the case to the standard established in United States v. Nixon,[27] which determined that a prosecutor must have a "demonstrated, specific need" for subpoenaing a President.[28] Otherwise, Kavanaugh agreed with the judgement and added that he "unanimously agrees that this case should be remanded to the District Court, where the President may raise constitutional and legal objections to the subpoena as appropriate."[26]

Dissenting opinions

Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito wrote separate dissenting opinions.[26] Thomas wrote that the majority opinion, which allowed subpoenas to be placed against the president, created an undue burden: "the demands on the president's time and the importance of his tasks are extraordinary, and the office of the president cannot be delegated to subordinates. A subpoena imposes both demands on the president's limited time and a mental burden, even when the president is not directly engaged in complying."[28] This, despite Thomas previously joining the unanimous decision in Clinton v. Jones which held that a sitting president could be subjected to a civil lawsuit for actions occurring before his presidency.

Alito wrote on his concern that the majority opinion would open the president to potential action from over 2000 local prosecutors and would impair the functionality of the presidential office: "Respect for the structure of government created by the Constitution demands greater protection for an institution that is vital to the nation's safety and well-being."[28]

Post-judgement

On the same day, Trump v. Mazars case was remanded to the lower court by the Supreme Court with the same 7–2 split. Congress has the authority to subpoena the president as part of its legislative duties, but the Supreme Court found a stronger requirement to exist for the subpoena than for a state grand jury subpoena. Chief Justice Roberts gave the lower courts a list of four considerations to determine when a congressional subpoena is appropriate within the scope of the separation of powers.[29]

At the request of Vance, the Supreme Court on July 17, 2020 allowed the judgement from its ruling to take effect immediately, instead of the 25 days after decision normally established, to allow the district attorney's office to proceed to request documents while the judicial arguments continued.[30]

Remand to District Court

On the remand of Trump v. Vance to the Southern New York District Court, Judge Victor Marrero set a deadline of July 15, 2020, for Trump to provide additional objections to the subpoena.[31] Trump’s revised complaint asserted that Vance's subpoena was politically motivated and overly broad. Marrero declined to block the subpoena on August 20, 2020, saying that Trump's new complaint was not substantially different from the first and dismissed Trump's case with prejudice, which allowed the subpoena to be executed. He concluded: "Justice requires an end to this controversy."[32]

Appeal to Federal Court

On the next day, August 21, Trump's lawyers filed an emergency request with a federal appeals court to put the subpoena on hold, but the court denied his request that same day. Instead, the court granted him a hearing that was scheduled for September 1, but meanwhile, the subpoena remained in force. Trump's accounting records could have been given to the New York State grand jury before the hearing took place, but that did not happen.[33] The appeals court ruled unanimously on October 7, 2020 to deny Trump's objection and ordered the subpoena to be obeyed.

Appeal to Supreme Court

Trump had stated his intent to appeal that ruling to the Supreme Court and was granted 12 days in which to do so and prosecutors delayed execution of the subpoena.[34][35] On October 13, 2020, Trump submitted a petition to the Supreme Court for a stay pending its review of the appeals court decision.[36]

On February 22, 2021, the Supreme Court denied the stay request, clearing the path for Trump’s tax records as well as other records to be released to prosecutors for review by a grand jury.[37]

Disclosure of records

Within hours of the Supreme Court’s ruling, Mazars handed over to Vance millions of pages of documents containing Trump's tax returns from January 2011 to August 2019, as well as financial statements, engagement agreements, documents relating to the preparation and review of tax returns, and work papers and communications related to the tax returns.[38]

On February 23, 2021, the House Oversight and Reform Committee in the 117th Congress, reissued its subpoena to Mazars seeking the same documents as had been provided to Vance, and which it had previously sought and been unable to obtain in Trump v. Mazars USA, LLP.[39]

See also

References

  1. ^ a b Liptak, Adam (July 9, 2020). "Supreme Court Rules Trump Cannot Block Release of Financial Records". The New York Times. Archived from the original on July 9, 2020. Retrieved July 9, 2020.
  2. ^ Ford, Matt (July 9, 2020). "The Supreme Court Brings the Presidency Back From a Lawless Brink". The New Republic. The New Republic. Archived from the original on July 9, 2020. Retrieved July 9, 2020.
  3. ^ Trump v. Vance, 591 U.S. ___ (2020)
  4. ^ Blake, Aaron. "5 things Donald Trump promised he'd do, but hasn't". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on 19 April 2019. Retrieved 19 April 2019.
  5. ^ Harwell, Drew (September 15, 2016). "All the excuses Trump has given for why he won't release his tax returns". Washington Post. Archived from the original on July 25, 2019. Retrieved August 7, 2019.
  6. ^ Gordon, Marcy (April 4, 2019). "White House pushes back on request for Trump tax forms". Associated Press. Archived from the original on April 5, 2019. Retrieved April 5, 2019.
  7. ^ "White House maneuvers to block release of Trump's tax returns". Washington Post. Archived from the original on April 5, 2019. Retrieved April 5, 2019.
  8. ^ "Here's how Democrats plan to get Donald Trump's tax returns". NBC News. Archived from the original on January 18, 2019. Retrieved April 5, 2019.
  9. ^ Lauren Fox (May 17, 2019). "Mnuchin defies House Democrats' subpoenas for Trump's tax returns". CNN. Archived from the original on November 4, 2019. Retrieved July 9, 2020.
  10. ^ Rappeport, Alan (May 6, 2019). "Steven Mnuchin Refuses to Release Trump's Tax Returns to Congress". The New York Times. Archived from the original on April 28, 2020. Retrieved May 7, 2019.
  11. ^ Rappeport, Alan (June 14, 2019). "Justice Dept. Backs Mnuchin's Refusal to Release Trump's Tax Returns". The New York Times. Archived from the original on June 16, 2019. Retrieved June 17, 2019.
  12. ^ Rashbaum, William K.; Protess, Ben (September 16, 2019). "8 Years of Trump Tax Returns Are Subpoenaed by Manhattan D.A." New York Times. Archived from the original on September 16, 2019. Retrieved September 16, 2019.
  13. ^ a b c Rashbaum, William K.; Weiser, Benjamin (October 7, 2019). "Trump Taxes: President Ordered to Turn Over Returns to Manhattan D.A." The New York Times. Archived from the original on October 16, 2019. Retrieved July 9, 2020.
  14. ^ Toby Ecker (September 23, 2019). "New York prosecutors reject Trump's immunity claim in tax returns case". politico.com. Archived from the original on September 25, 2019. Retrieved September 25, 2019.
  15. ^ Larry Neumeister (September 23, 2019). "Prosecutor says Trump wants 'sweeping immunity' in tax fight". Associated Press. Archived from the original on September 26, 2019. Retrieved July 9, 2020.
  16. ^ Orden, Erica (October 7, 2019). "Judge dismisses Trump request to keep taxes secret in New York". CNN. Archived from the original on October 7, 2019. Retrieved July 9, 2020.
  17. ^ Benjamin Weiser & Adam Liptak, Trump Taxes: Appeals Court Rules President Must Turn Over 8 Years of Tax Returns Archived 2019-11-05 at the Wayback Machine, New York Times (November 4, 2019).
  18. ^ Trump v. Vance (2d Cir. Nov. 4, 2019).
  19. ^ Liptak, Adam (December 13, 2019). "Supreme Court to Rule on Release of Trump's Financial Records". The New York Times. Archived from the original on December 17, 2019. Retrieved July 9, 2020.
  20. ^ Liptak, Adam (May 12, 2020). "Supreme Court Hints at Split Decision in Two Cases on Obtaining Trump's Financial Records". The New York Times. Archived from the original on September 27, 2020. Retrieved July 9, 2020.
  21. ^ Williams, Pete (July 9, 2020). "Supreme Court rules Trump will have to fight to keep secret his taxes, financial records". NBC News. Retrieved July 9, 2020.
  22. ^ Sheth, Sonam; Samuelsohn, Darren (July 9, 2020). "Supreme Court rules against Trump in 2 landmark cases about his taxes and financial records". Business Insider. Archived from the original on July 9, 2020. Retrieved July 9, 2020.
  23. ^ a b Lempert, Richard (October 19, 2020). "Trump's tax returns: Why the Supreme Court should end things now". Brookings Institution. Archived from the original on November 1, 2020. Retrieved November 29, 2020.
  24. ^ "From Burr to Clinton, Supreme Court Takes History Tour in Trump Wealth Case". Reuters. July 9, 2020. Retrieved July 10, 2020.
  25. ^ Ford, Matt (July 9, 2020). "The Supreme Court Brings the Presidency Back From a Lawless Brink". The New Republic. The New Republic. Archived from the original on July 9, 2020. Retrieved July 9, 2020.
  26. ^ a b c Barnes, Robert (July 9, 2020). "Supreme Court says Manhattan prosecutor may pursue Trump's financial records, denies Congress access for now". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on February 15, 2021. Retrieved July 9, 2020.
  27. ^ United States v. Nixon, ___ U.S. 683 (1974)
  28. ^ a b c Ryan, Tim (July 9, 2020). "Supreme Court Advances Subpoena of Trump Tax Returns". Courthouse News. Archived from the original on July 11, 2020. Retrieved July 10, 2020.
  29. ^ "Trump taxes: Supreme Court says New York prosecutors can see records". BBC. July 9, 2020. Archived from the original on February 15, 2021. Retrieved July 10, 2020.
  30. ^ Scannell, Kara; Berman, Dan (July 17, 2020). "Trump taxes subpoena fight can resume quickly after Supreme Court action". CNN. Archived from the original on February 15, 2021. Retrieved July 17, 2020.
  31. ^ Jacobs, Shayna (July 10, 2020). "New York judge gives Trump deadline in lawsuit over tax returns following major Supreme Court ruling". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on February 15, 2021. Retrieved July 13, 2020.
  32. ^ Higgens, Tucker (August 20, 2020). "Judge throws out Trump challenge to Manhattan DA subpoena for tax records". CNBC. Archived from the original on February 15, 2021. Retrieved August 20, 2020.
  33. ^ Scannell, Kara; Polantz, Katelyn (21 August 2020). "Appeals court sets September 1 hearing on deadline for Trump's financial records subpoena". CNN. Archived from the original on 2020-08-22. Retrieved 2020-08-21.
  34. ^ Weiser, Benjamin; Rashbaum, William K. (October 7, 2020). "Manhattan D.A. Can Obtain Trump's Tax Returns, Judges Rule". The New York Times. Archived from the original on February 15, 2021. Retrieved October 7, 2020.
  35. ^ Scannell, Kara (7 October 2020). "Subpoena for Trump tax returns heading back to Supreme Court after President dealt another setback". CNN. Archived from the original on 2020-10-07. Retrieved 2020-10-07.
  36. ^ Winter, Tom; Williams, Pete (October 13, 2020). "Trump attorneys ask Supreme Court for stay in Manhattan DA's tax case". NBC News. Archived from the original on February 15, 2021. Retrieved October 13, 2020.
  37. ^ Liptak, Adam (February 22, 2021). "Supreme Court Denies Trump's Final Bid to Block Release of Financial Records". The New York Times.
  38. ^ Scannell, Kara; Prokupecz, Shimon; Cole, Devan (February 25, 2021). "Trump's tax returns and related records turned over to Manhattan district attorney". CNN. Retrieved 25 February 2021.
  39. ^ Wolfe, Jan (2021-03-03). "U.S. House panel reissues subpoena for Trump's tax records". Reuters. Retrieved 2021-03-05.

Further reading

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