DC Court Backs Subpoena-Like Power for House Minority

December 29, 2020 Updated: December 29, 2020

An appeals court ruled that a congressional minority has the standing to enforce requests for government information.

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 in favor of a group of House Democrats who serve on the House Oversight and Reform Committee who wanted to obtain records from the General Services Administration (GSA). They had sought to get information about the federal government’s lease of the Old Post Office building in the city to the Trump Organization that was used for the Trump International Hotel.

The majority of the court ruled that the House members had standing and had suffered injury from the agency’s refusal to provide the information after they had demanded it. They said that lawmakers can resort to the courts to enforce a law known as the seven-member rule, which dates back to 1928.

“It is concrete—the request was made and straightforwardly denied; the Requesters have been and remain empty-handed,” Judge Patricia Millett wrote (pdf). “The injury is personal and particularized to the Requesters themselves, not to any other legislators, to a legislative body, or even to their Committee seats.”

Millett, an Obama appointee, added that the Constitution’s “Article III’s standing requirements are fully met,” adding: “The informational injury asserted is a traditional and long-recognized form of Article III injury.”

The Department of Justice, which is representing the GSA in the case, has not made a public comment on the matter. The Epoch Times has reached out for comment.

“The separation of powers, it must be remembered, is not a one-way street that runs to the aggrandizement of the Executive Branch,” added Miller in the majority ruling. “When the Political Branches duly enact a statute that confers a right, the impairment of which courts have long recognized to be an Article III injury, proper adherence to the limited constitutional role of the federal courts favors judicial respect for and recognition of that injury.”

Judge Douglas Ginsburg was the lone dissenter in the opinion, writing that the minority of lawmakers had sought to use the power of the entire House of Representatives.

“The consequences of allowing a handful of members to enforce in court demands for Executive Branch documents without regard to the wishes of the House majority are sure to be ruinous,” wrote Ginsburg, an appointee of President Ronald Reagan. “Judicial enforcement of requests under [the statute] will allow the minority party (or even an ideological fringe of the minority party) to distract and harass Executive agencies and their most senior officials.”

Ginsburg noted that in prior cases, the D.C. Court of Appeals “has warned it would be hesitant to enforce a document demand made by ‘a wayward committee acting contrary to the will of the House.’”