End of Term Supreme Court Rulings Open Trump’s Records

Native American reservation sovereignty is reinforced, and President Trump’s financial documents become open for discovery 

The Supreme Court has released rulings for its final sessions until October this Thursday. Among the three cases, the Court reviewed year-old subpoenas for President Trump’s financial documents, potentially initiating opportunities for the documents to be legally discovered and publicly released in the future. Also in the final rulings comes an assessment on the Muskogee Nation Native American reservation’s legitimacy, brought on by a Native American man convicted of crimes seeking jurisdiction from the sovereign tribe.

Trump v. Mazars USA

In 2019, numerous U.S. House committees filed a subpoena for President Donald Trump’s documents to accounting firm Mazars USA, LLC. Specifically, the congress people sought access to a variety of Trump’s finance records, including financial statements, bank statements, credit card statements, loan engagement letters, tax returns and personal checks.

In response, Trump brought Mazars to D.C.’s federal district court, requesting judgement and a permanent injunction against the subpoena.

The court denied his request, and later, the Supreme Court took the case on a petition. The following majority decision nullified the district court’s ruling and remanded the case. Chief Justice Roberts, who delivered the 7-justice majority opinion, said that the congressional subpoenas failed to adequately account for “weighty concerns regarding the separation of powers.” The dissenting opinions by Justices Thomas and Alito, also agreed with the reversal of the subpoenas, though for another reason; that the Congress’ legislative powers, “do not authorize it to engage in a nationwide inquisition with whatever resources it chooses to appropriate for itself,” as Thomas wrote.

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The congressional subpoenas were thus denied and the case ended. Following this ruling, however, comes the result of another subpoena against the president, which leaves the president’s documents wide open for review, and possibly even to the public.

Trump v. Vance

In 2019, New York County District Attorney, Cyrus Vance also filed a grand jury subpoena for Trump’s information from Mazars.

The president challenged Vance’s subpoena in a federal New York district court, with his defense claiming that his documents were protected from subpoena and discovery by qualified immunity granted to him as president by Article II of the Constitution. 

From the defense’s point of view, the Article prevented Trump from being sued in his capacity as president, thus preventing the process of subpoena and discovery.

However, when the court dismissed Trump’s claim, he appealed to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, and finally, the Supreme Court. What followed was a series of deferments due to many issues, including COVID-19. Finally, the Supreme Court ruled on the case this Thursday. The majority opinion, delivered again by Chief Justice Roberts, established that Article II does not “categorically preclude or require a heightened standard for the issuance of a state criminal subpoena to a sitting United States president”, meaning that Trump’s standing as United States President does not render him immune to investigation. The case was also remanded for further proceedings.

 The two new rulings leave the president’s records open for legal discovery (AP)

Roberts again spoke on the ruling saying, “The President is neither absolutely immune from state criminal subpoenas seeking his private papers nor entitled to a heightened standard of need.”

Oklahoma v. McGirt

The last of this term’s Supreme Court rulings called into question the legitimacy of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, an Native American reservation located in Oklahoma. Jimcy McGirt, a Native American man and member of the Creek Nation, was convicted of sex crimes against a child in an Oklahoma state court. McGirt’s defense appealed his conviction at the Supreme Court level on the basis that because McGirt committed the crime on reservation land, he should be subject to Creek Nation jurisdiction. 

The state of Oklahoma disputed the claim on several bases, one of which denied the existence of the Creek Nation. One claim stated that Congress ended the Creek reservation during the “so-called allotment era– a period in which Congress sought to pressure to parcel their lands into smaller lots owned by individual tribe members.” Another claim was that Congress had not established the reservation but instead, a “dependent Indian community.”

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Justice Gorsuch led the majority opinion, while Justices Kavanaugh, Roberts, Alito and Thomas dissented. The dissenting opinion, authored by Roberts, held that McGirt’s appeal rested on the application of the Major Crimes Act, which holds Native Americans living on reservations accountable for certain crimes under the Federal Government’s jurisdiction.

Gorsuch’s majority opinion contested this claim, on the basis that when Congress passed the Act, they were in violation of the Creek Nation’s sovereignty as established by Congress in the 19th century. “The federal government promised the Creek a reservation in perpetuity.” He wrote. “Over time, Congress has diminished that reservation. It has sometimes restricted and other times expanded the Tribe’s authority. But Congress has never withdrawn the promised reservation. As a result, many of the arguments before us today follow a sadly familiar pattern.” “If Congress wishes to withdraw its promises, it must say so.”

In the end, the Court ruled in a 5-4 vote that the Nation remains a Native American Reservation, and that Oklahoma did not have jurisdiction over McGirt.