Adam Serwer: The Roberts court completes Trump’s cover-up
The cases began roughly a year ago, when the House subpoenaed financial records concerning Trump and his businesses from two banks—Deutsche Bank and Capital One—and Trump’s personal accounting firm, Mazars. Separately, the Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance sought records from Mazars in the course of a New York state criminal investigation. Trump stepped in to bar the institutions from handing over the material, arguing—with regard to Congress—that the legislature had failed to voice an appropriate rationale for its request, and—with regard to Vance—that Trump’s high office shields him from state-level investigations for as long as he remains president.
Compared with Trump v. Mazars, Trump v. Vance both received less attention in the run-up to the decisions and proved to be the easier case for the Court to untangle. As to Trump’s claim to what his legal team once characterized as “temporary absolute presidential immunity,” the Supreme Court’s answer was simple: No. All nine justices agreed that a total shield from state criminal process was out of the question. This is a thrashing for Trump, but it’s also a reflection of how absurd the president’s assertion of immunity was to begin with. Even the Justice Department, which chimed in during oral arguments as a “friend of the court” in support of Trump’s personal legal team, didn’t endorse this aspect of the president’s argument.
Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented on other aspects of the case, so the nine-justice unanimity was not complete. But in an era when contentious issues often split the justices five to four, the seven-to-two ruling registers as an overwhelming rebuke to Trump—especially given that both of Trump’s appointees to the Court, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, voted against the president.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority in both Vance and Mazars, and to some extent he seems to have tried to knit the two together as a matching set: The majority opinion in Mazars is studded with references to Vance, and the lengthy yarn about Aaron Burr and Thomas Jefferson that opens Vance pops up in Mazars as well. And the same six justices ruled with Roberts in both cases. But the Court’s decision in Mazars is a more complicated story. As scholars and analysts puzzled through the ruling over the course of the day, nobody seemed to be able to agree whether Congress had won or lost.
David Frum: Trump is losing credit where he may soon need it most
The majority steered away from Trump’s argument that Congress must clear a consistently high bar in order to subpoena information relating to the president, whether the material is protected by executive privilege—as were the Watergate tapes in United States v. Nixon—or not, as in this case. This would have been an enormous blow to Congress’s ability to conduct oversight of the executive branch. But the chief justice also declined to embrace the House’s view of broad congressional investigative authority with little constraint from the courts, worrying that this would place “essentially no limits” on Congress’s power. The majority instead suggested that courts weighing these cases should pay greater attention to the balance of power between Congress and the presidency, encouraging the legislature to provide judges with more evidence that the subpoenas are sufficiently focused and relevant to congressional work.