Supreme Court Orders Additional Briefs for Trump Financial Records Cases

April 27, 2020 Updated: April 27, 2020

The Supreme Court has ordered the House and the Trump administration to submit additional briefs to address the question of whether courts should preside over President Donald Trump’s financial records cases.

In an order on Monday, the top court asked the parties and the solicitor general to brief the justices on “whether the political question doctrine or related justiciability principles bear on the Court’s adjudication” of two cases where House Democrats are trying to gain access the president’s financial records (pdf).

The political question doctrine refers to the idea that courts should avoid hearing issues that are considered politically charged, as courts can only decide questions of law.

The order suggests that some of the justices are questioning whether the judiciary is fit to consider disputes between government branches.

This order comes two weeks before the justices will hear oral arguments on the two cases related to House subpoenas for Trump’s financial records and a similar case relating to a subpoena issued by a New York district attorney in a grand jury probe.

The disputes dealing with the separation of power and absolute immunity concerns reached the Supreme Court after appellate judges upheld the subpoenas. Two of the cases stem from subpoenas that were issued earlier in the year by three House committees—Financial Services, Intelligence, and Oversight—as part of their probes over allegations of the president’s dealings. Meanwhile, the third case deals with a criminal investigation in Manhattan.

Trump’s legal team filed briefs earlier this year urging the Supreme Court to block the subpoenas. In one of the briefs (pdf), the lawyers argued that although House committees are claiming that they are seeking the records for a legislative purpose, they are instead “engaging in law enforcement.”

“These Committees are not legislating; they are avowedly engaging in law enforcement. All of them—to one degree or another—have acknowledged that the purpose of the investigations is to determine whether the President engaged in wrongdoing,” the lawyers state in the brief. “The events that led to the subpoenas’ issuance, the public statements surrounding these investigations, the nature of these demands themselves, and other evidence confirm that the Committees’ purpose is to find out if the President broke the law.”

Similarly, in the Manhattan case, Trump’s attorneys argued in a separate brief (pdf) that the president is immune from requests to hand over his financial records to the criminal prosecutor while he is in office, and that the only way to prosecute a sitting president as provided by the Constitution is through impeachment.

The cases will be heard on May 12 by phone conference.

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