Supreme Court

Will Breyer Side With Trump in Congressional Subpoena Fight?

The Supreme Court weighs the congressional subpoena power in Trump v. Mazars.

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The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments yesterday in Trump v. Mazars, a case which asks whether the House Committee on Oversight and Reform overstepped its legal authority in 2019 when it subpoenaed Mazars USA, Donald Trump's longtime accounting firm, demanding eight years of financial records pertaining to Trump and several of his business entities.

In Barenblatt v. United States (1959), the Supreme Court held that "Congress may only investigate into those areas in which it may potentially legislate or appropriate." In Eastland v. U.S. Servicemen's Fund (1975), the Court said that the congressional subpoena power may only be used for a "legitimate legislative purpose."

The House Committee on Oversight and Reform told the Supreme Court that its efforts to acquire Trump's tax records easily satisfied the "legitimate legislative purpose" test. "The election of a President who has decided to maintain his ties to a broad array of business ventures raises questions about the adequacy of existing legislation concerning financial disclosures, government contracts with federal officeholders, and government ethics, more generally," the committee argued. "Whether new legislation on these subjects is needed is a natural subject of Congressional inquiry."

Trump and his lawyers told the Court that if the committee prevailed in this case, future congressional committees would be empowered to go on countless fishing expeditions into the private records of future presidents. "A congressional committee merely needs to say that it is considering legislation requiring presidents to disclose [financial] information of this type," Trump's legal team argued. "Given the temptation to investigate the personal lives of political rivals, legislative subpoenas targeting the private affairs of presidents will become routine in times of divided government."

The Trump team's warning seemed to resonate with several members of the Court during the oral arguments. Perhaps most worrisome for the Democratic-controlled House Committee on Oversight and Reform, the warning seemed to find a particularly receptive audience in Justice Stephen Breyer, a Democratic appointee and senior figure on the Court's so-called liberal wing.

"The subpoenas that I've seen," Breyer told Douglas Letter, the general counsel for the House of Representatives, "apply to 15 Trump-affiliated entities. They ask for all documents related to opening of accounts, due diligence, closing, requests for information by other parties, et cetera. Now that's a lot of information, and some of it's pretty vague." And "my problem" with all of that, Breyer continued, is "the fact that what I hold today [in this case] will also apply to a future Senator McCarthy asking a future Franklin Roosevelt or Harry Truman exactly the same questions." That, Breyer told the House's lawyer, "bothers me."

These statements do not necessarily mean that Breyer is going to rule in favor of Trump in this case. But they do suggest that the liberal justice is at least weighing the idea that Trump should win this round in order to protect the office of the presidency the next time around.

A decision in Trump v. Mazars is expected by June.

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  1. OK, the race is on to be the first commenter with a good “subpoenas envy” joke.

    1. incorporate the Kentucky chick who had threesomes in her chambers … Bang the Judge Slowly

  2. I suppose if Congress wins this case, the Senate could get all the records of the Clinton Foundation?

    1. Or better yet Biden’s info from when he was VP.

    2. It is truly astounding how incredibly short-sighted so many politicians are.

      1. Why are you against politicians having to disclose this stuff? Fuck all of them. I want everyone of these mfers in the bright light.

        1. Yeah Pod. Sure you do.

        2. Is this one of those times that you’re ignorant of what the actual conversation is about or are you just being an asshole?

        3. Because the 4th amendment covers all Americans, not just non politicians.

          We get it. You want to punish your political enemies. Fuck off.

  3. If you can’t catch a fish, keep fishing until you catch one – or, at least a rock that looks like one. Drain the oceans, if you have to. Getting to the bottom of things overrides every other existing right, limitation, and balance of power in our constitutional structure and nobody is exempt from the all-knowing, prying eyes of government.

  4. I would be more than happy to see a future McCarthy destroy a future fdr, Clinton , Obama, etc.

  5. If this was legitimately about investigating President Trumps tax returns for signs of illegal activity and not about trying to find something to embarrass and use in the upcoming election then why 8 years? Why not just since he has been president, or even from when he won the nomination? Not to mention prior to 2017 the IRS was run by Obama lackeys and if there was anything illegal going on we would have heard of it by now.

    1. Or the opposite. Why only the last 8 years? Why not back to when he was 18. There’s just got to be something juicy there!

      1. Think it has something to do with the number of years you’re supposed to retain them, per the IRS.

    2. Biden wants to know!

      1. Geritol Joe couldn’t remember what the letters of IRS stands for, let alone form a coherent thought expressed in a grammatically correct sentence.

  6. I like how respecting the 4th amendment is now siding with Trump.

  7. interested to see if Roberts is a judge or an Obamajudge

  8. Treasury hands Hunter Biden records over to GOP after refusing to release Trump tax returns.

    A source familiar with the matter told the outlet that the Treasury began turning over Biden’s documents less than two months after Grassley and Johnson sent a request in November. 

    https://www.salon.com/2020/02/07/treasury-hands-hunter-biden-records-over-to-gop-after-refusing-to-release-trump-tax-returns/

    1. Not a good sign when the source you chose has this in the first paragraph… “despite refusing to release President Donald Trump’s tax returns as required by law.” Hint… by law tax records are deemed confidential. They are not public. They are not for congressional perusal.

      1. The Biden records were tax records.

        1. And where did I say I agreed with those being turned over?

          The only court that likely had a right to those were the family court on regards to paternity suits.

        2. So you don’t care that the first paragraph in your source has a lie in it? You like being lied to by your betters don’t you?

          1. He probably doesnt even realize the USSC is currently hearing a case about the tax records and even the liberal justices seemed skeptical. This even though it is what the article is about.

  9. The cleanest ‘out’ for SCOTUS is to declare the case not justicable, due to it being a political question.

    And why hasn’t Ruth Bader Ginsberg recused herself from the case? She spoke publicly about the subject matter at hand during the election and showed her bias.

  10. Perhaps Breyer is hoping to convince his colleagues to remand the case to the lower court with “guidance” to determine if there is legitimate legislative intent behind the House subpoena because he can’t defend that being the case because the record is currently too thin.

    Doing so could avoid setting a broad precedent but, if Trump is re-elected, the issue would eventually come back to SCOTUS and it will be easier for Breyer to then make the argument that there is now good evidence, prompted by the lower court following the “guidance” and asking the “right” questions to elicit the “right” answers, that in this case there is legitimate legislative intent.

    This would avoid SCOTUS making a broad decision that could work against Breyer’s preferences (such as potentially allowing Congress to investigate President Biden by demanding personal records) while still retaining the possibility of using the weapon against a second term President Trump.

    What, me cynical???

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