Link to Opinion of the Court.
A more substantial summary coming momentarily.
Link to Opinion of the Court.
A more substantial summary coming momentarily.
In 2019, the New York County District Attorney’s Office—acting on behalf of a grand jury—served a subpoena duces tecum on Mazars USA, LLP, the personal accounting firm of President Donald J. Trump, for financial records relating to the President and his businesses. The President, acting in his personal capacity, sued the district attorney and Mazars in Federal District Court to enjoin enforcement of the subpoena, arguing that a sitting President enjoys absolute immunity from state criminal process under Article II and the Supremacy Clause. The District Court dismissed the case under the abstention doctrine of Younger v. Harris, 401 U. S. 37, and, in the alternative, held that the President was not entitled to injunctive relief. The Second Circuit rejected the District Court’s dismissal under Younger but agreed with the court’s denial of injunctive relief, concluding that presidential immunity did not bar enforcement of the subpoena and rejecting the argument of the United States as amicus curiae that a state grand jury subpoena seeking the President’s documents must satisfy a heightened showing of need.
Held: Article II and the Supremacy Clause do not categorically preclude, or require a heightened standard for, the issuance of a state criminal subpoena to a sitting President. Pp. 3–22.
(a) In 1807, John Marshall, presiding as Circuit Justice for Virginia over the treason trial of Aaron Burr, granted Burr’s motion for a subpoena duces tecum directed at President Jefferson. In rejecting the prosecution’s argument that a President was not subject to such a subpoena, Marshall held that a President does not “stand exempt” from the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee that the accused have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses for their defense. United States v. Burr, 25 F. Cas. 30, 33–34. The sole argument for an exemption was that a President’s “duties as chief magistrate demand his whole time for national objects.” Ibid. But, in Marshall’s assessment, those duties were “not unremitting,” ibid., and any conflict could be addressed by the court upon return of the subpoena. Marshall also concluded that the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee extended to the production of papers. “[T]he propriety of introducing any papers,” he explained, would “depend on the character of the paper, not the character of the person who holds it,” and would have “due consideration” upon the return of the subpoena. Id., at 34, 37. Jefferson agreed to furnish whatever justice required, subject to the prerogative to decide whether particular executive communications should be withheld.
In the two centuries since Burr, successive Presidents from Monroe to Clinton have accepted Marshall’s ruling that the Chief Executive is subject to subpoena and have uniformly agreed to testify when called in criminal proceedings.
In 1974, the question whether to compel the disclosure of official communications over the President’s objection came to a head when the Watergate Special Prosecutor secured a subpoena duces tecum directing President Nixon to produce, among other things, tape recordings of Oval Office meetings. This Court rejected Nixon’s claim of an absolute privilege of confidentiality for all presidential communications. Recognizing that “compulsory process” was imperative for both the prosecution and the defense, the Court held that the President’s “generalized assertion of privilege must yield to the demonstrated, specific need for evidence in a pending criminal trial.” United States v. Nixon, 418 U. S. 683, 713. President Nixon dutifully released the tapes. Pp. 3–10.
(b) This history all involved federal criminal proceedings. Here, the President claims that the Supremacy Clause gives a sitting President absolute immunity from state criminal subpoenas because compliance with such subpoenas would categorically impair the performance of his Article II functions. The Solicitor General, arguing on behalf of the United States, claims that a state grand jury subpoena for a sitting President’s personal records must, at the very least, meet a heightened standard of need. Pp. 10–22.
(1) The President’s unique duties as head of the Executive Branch come with protections that safeguard his ability to perform his vital functions. The Constitution also guarantees “the entire independence of the General Government from any control by the respective States.” Farmers and Mechanics Sav. Bank of Minneapolis v. Minnesota, 232 U. S. 516, 521. Marshall’s ruling in Burr, entrenched by 200 years of practice and this Court’s decision in Nixon, confirms that federal criminal subpoenas do not “rise to the level of constitutionally forbidden impairment of the Executive’s ability to perform its constitutionally mandated functions.” Clinton v. Jones, 520 U. S. 681, 702–703. But the President claims that state criminal subpoenas necessarily pose a unique threat of impairment and thus require absolute immunity. His categorical argument focuses on three burdens: diversion, stigma, and harassment. Pp. 10–17.
(i) The President contends that complying with state criminal subpoenas would necessarily distract the Chief Executive from his duties. He grounds that concern on Nixon v. Fitzgerald, which recognized a President’s “absolute immunity from damages liability predicated on his official acts.” 457 U. S. 731, 749. But, contrary to the President’s suggestion, that case did not hold that distraction was sufficient to confer absolute immunity. Indeed, the Court expressly rejected immunity based on distraction alone 15 years later in Clinton v. Jones, when President Clinton sought absolute immunity from civil liability for private acts. As the Court explained, Fitzgerald’s “dominant concern” was not mere distraction but the distortion of the Executive’s “decisionmaking process.” 520 U. S., at 694, n. 19. The prospect that a President may become “preoccupied by pending litigation” did not ordinarily implicate constitutional concerns. Id., at 705, n. 40. Two centuries of experience likewise confirm that a properly tailored criminal subpoena will not normally hamper the performance of a President’s constitutional duties.
The President claims this case is different. He believes that he is under investigation and argues that the toll will necessarily be heavier in that circumstance. But the President is not seeking immunity from the diversion occasioned by the prospect of future criminal liability. He concedes that he may be investigated while in office. His objection is instead limited to the additional distraction caused by the subpoena itself. That argument, however, runs up against the 200 years of precedent establishing that Presidents, and their official communications, are subject to judicial process, see Burr, 25 F. Cas., at 34, even when the President is under investigation, see Nixon, 418 U. S., at 706. Pp. 12–14.
(ii) The President next claims that the stigma of being subpoenaed will undermine his leadership at home and abroad. But even if a tarnished reputation were a cognizable impairment, there is nothing inherently stigmatizing about a President performing “the citizen’s normal duty of . . . furnishing information relevant” to a criminal investigation. Branzburg v. Hayes, 408 U. S. 665, 691. Nor can the risk of association with persons or activities under criminal investigation absolve a President of such an important public duty. The consequences for a President’s public standing will likely increase if he is the one under investigation, but the President concedes that such investigations are permitted under Article II and the Supremacy Clause. And the receipt of a subpoena would not seem to categorically magnify the harm to the President’s reputation. Additionally, in the grand jury context longstanding secrecy rules aim to prevent the very stigma the President anticipates. Pp. 14–15.
(iii) Finally, the President argues that subjecting Presidents to state criminal subpoenas will make them “easily identifiable target[s]” for harassment. Fitzgerald, 457 U. S., at 753. The Court rejected a nearly identical argument in Clinton, concluding that the risk posed by harassing civil litigation was not “serious” because federal courts have the tools to deter and dismiss vexatious lawsuits. 520 U. S., at 708. Harassing state criminal subpoenas could, under certain circumstances, threaten the independence or effectiveness of the Executive. But here again the law already seeks to protect against such abuse. First, grand juries are prohibited from engaging in “arbitrary fishing expeditions” or initiating investigations “out of malice or an intent to harass,” United States v. R. Enterprises, Inc., 498 U. S. 292, 299, and federal courts may intervene in state proceedings that are motivated by or conducted in bad faith. Second, because the Supremacy Clause prohibits state judges and prosecutors from interfering with a President’s official duties, any effort to manipulate a President’s policy decisions or to retaliate against a President for official acts through issuance of a subpoena would be an unconstitutional attempt to “influence” a superior sovereign “exempt” from such obstacles, see McCulloch v. Maryland, 4 Wheat. 316, 417. And federal law allows a President to challenge any such allegedly unconstitutional influence in a federal forum. Pp. 15–17.
(2) A state grand jury subpoena seeking a President’s private papers need not satisfy a heightened need standard, for three reasons.
First, although a President cannot be treated as an “ordinary individual” when executive communications are sought, Burr teaches that, with regard to private papers, a President stands in “nearly the same situation with any other individual.” 25 F. Cas., at 191–192. Second, there has been no showing here that heightened protection against state subpoenas is necessary for the Executive to fulfill his Article II functions. Finally, absent a need
to protect the Executive, the public interest in fair and effective law enforcement cuts in favor of comprehensive access to evidence.
Rejecting a heightened need standard does not leave Presidents without recourse. A President may avail himself of the same protections available to every other citizen, including the right to challenge the subpoena on any grounds permitted by state law, which usually include bad faith and undue burden or breadth. When the President invokes such protections, “[t]he high respect that is owed to the office of the Chief Executive . . . should inform the conduct of the entire proceeding, including the timing and scope of discovery.” Clinton, 520 U. S., at 707. In addition, a President can raise subpoena-specific constitutional challenges in either a state or a federal forum. As noted above, he can challenge the subpoena as an attempt to influence the performance of his official duties, in violation of the Supremacy Clause. And he can argue that compliance with a particular subpoena would impede his constitutional duties. Pp. 17–21.
941 F. 3d 631, affirmed and remanded.
ROBERTS, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which GINSBURG, BREYER, SOTOMAYOR, and KAGAN, JJ., joined. KAVANAUGH, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which GORSUCH, J., joined. THOMAS, J., and ALITO, J., filed dissenting opinions.
No absolute immunity for a president 7-2 (Alito and Thomas dissents)
The president in not a king. lOL
PJ and Squee joined Roberts and the Liberals!
This doesn’t bode well for Trump on the second decision.
Lol Gorsuch and Kavanaugh in the majority. Lol
So good. He’s prolly trying to figure out how to drain the SCOTUS swamp right now.
Can’t wait to see the hot takes on Twitter.
I finished formatting the syllabus in the post above, so it should now be easier to read.
I don’t know… still looks like a wall of text :). I am kidding its much more legible now thanks!
Our legal scholar and adult president has weighted in:
It’s before noon, he’s still in the Residence. No one to take his phone away.
Did he get the cases confused? He said SC sends case back to lower court and now has to keep fighting NY?
The NY case was not sent back. The Congress case was.
He’s essentially referencing both.
Keep in mind this is a dude who seems to think that SCOTUS is an investigative grand jury.
No one has ever accused him of strictly linear thinking ever. Just another example of stream-of-conciousness, impressionist, victimhood.
His supporters say he talks like them.