Supreme Court Grants Request to Drop Hearing on Mueller Grand Jury Documents

Supreme Court Grants Request to Drop Hearing on Mueller Grand Jury Documents
Former special prosecutor Robert Mueller testifies before Congress in Washington, on July 24, 2019. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)
Janita Kan

The Supreme Court on Friday has granted a request to drop a scheduled hearing over whether a House Committee has the right to access grand jury materials from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.

The Democrat-led House Judiciary Committee has been seeking access to grand jury information redacted from Mueller’s 448-page report, including transcripts or exhibits referenced in the redactions. In July 2019, the panel filed an application for a court order to authorize the release of certain grand jury materials related to the Mueller report.

The House was seeking the documents as part of its ongoing investigations into President Donald Trump in an attempt to find impeachable offenses against him.

The case, cited as Department of Justice v. Committee on the Judiciary, reached the nation's top court after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled 2–1 to uphold a district court’s decision ordering the Justice Department (DOJ) to turn over grand jury material referenced in or underlying Mueller’s report.
The Supreme Court had previously granted a request by the DOJ to temporarily block the release of the documents following the appellate court decision. The justices also accepted to review the lower court decision and schedule a hearing for oral argument for Dec. 2.
On Nov. 17, the House Judiciary Committee filed a motion to remove the case from its December calendar but it did not ask the top court to reschedule it to another day, suggesting that the House Democrats were considering dropping the case completely.
The top court, in a brief order (pdf), said that "the motion of respondent to remove the case from the December 2020 argument calendar is granted."
Although the Senate acquitted Trump in his impeachment trial in February, House lawyers had previously said that the lawmakers will continue their impeachment probe against the president regardless of the outcome in the Senate.
The main question in the present case is whether an impeachment trial is a judicial proceeding. Grand jury materials are usually guarded with great secrecy and are only disclosed under exceptional circumstances. One of the exceptions that allow for disclosure is when the documents are being sought in connection to a judicial proceeding.

The lower courts had accepted that the impeachment trial qualifies under the exception, while former Solicitor General Noel Francisco argued in his brief earlier this year that it does not.

“The ordinary meaning of ‘judicial proceeding’ is a proceeding before a court—not an impeachment trial before elected legislators,” he wrote. “The court of appeals’ interpretation defies that ordinary meaning, and creates needless contradictions with the other instances of ‘judicial proceeding’ in Rule 6(e)(3) itself.”

The House panel argued that the administration does not meet the standard for a stay and that the DOJ had failed to demonstrate why the court’s review should be warranted.

House lawyers told the court that the committee had put in place procedures to protect the confidentiality of the grand jury materials. They added that the information was needed to “complete its impeachment investigation” of the president for alleged misconduct detailed in the Mueller report.

Following the media's projection of Democratic candidate Joe Biden's victory in the election, the House committee said in its Nov. 17 brief that a new Congress will be constituted Jan. 3, 2021, and confident that Biden would be sworn in as president on Jan. 20, 202, it asked the justices to “recalendar” arguments in the case.

"The Committee believes that postponing oral argument would be in the interest of the parties and the Court and may conserve judicial resources," it wrote in its brief (pdf).

The Epoch Times is not declaring a winner of the 2020 presidential election until all results are certified and any legal challenges are resolved.