Last month the unnamed corporation at the center of a dispute over a grand jury subpoena that is widely believed to be connected to the investigation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller asked the Supreme Court for permission to file a petition for review under seal. Today the Supreme Court granted that permission and made a redacted version of the petition available to the public. However, the redacted version sheds little – if any – new light on the nature of the dispute or any possible links to the special counsel’s investigation.
The petition makes clear that the unnamed corporation is a “wholly owned agency or instrumentality” of an unnamed country, identified only as “Country A” (a term used interchangeably in the petition to refer to the country and the corporation) and it provides a slightly more detailed description of the events that resulted in the dispute’s reaching the Supreme Court. “Earlier this year,” the petition recounts, “the U.S. government served a grand jury subpoena on Country A,” which “understands that it is a witness in the investigation.” Country A tried to block the subpoena, arguing both that it was immune from having to comply with the subpoena and that, in any event, complying with the subpoena would require it to violate its own laws.
A federal district court in Washington, D.C., rejected that argument and ordered Country A to produce the information requested by the subpoena. When Country A refused, the district court held it in contempt and ordered it to pay $50,000 per day.
Country A appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which upheld the district court’s order. Country A then went to the Supreme Court, asking the justices to put the lower court’s order requiring it to provide the information or pay the penalties on hold while it appealed; Chief Justice John Roberts granted the request temporarily, but on January 8 the Supreme Court declined to block the order any longer – allowing the penalties to mount while the corporation appeals.
On the same day, the company filed a motion seeking permission to file a petition for review of the D.C. Circuit’s decision under seal. Today the justices granted that motion, making the redacted petition for review available to the public.
Even the petition’s signature block is redacted, giving no hint as to who the attorneys representing the company and Country A are. The petition also does not provide any real insight into how the information that the government is seeking might fit into the Mueller investigation. Instead, the petition urges the justices to take up the case and review two main legal issues: whether U.S. courts have criminal jurisdiction over foreign countries, and whether foreign countries are immune from contempt sanctions. The petition warns that if the D.C. Circuit’s ruling is allowed to stand, it would “wreak havoc on American foreign policy—possibly alienating U.S. allies, undermining diplomatic efforts, and inviting reciprocal treatment abroad for American agencies and instrumentalities.”
The government’s response to the petition is currently due on February 21, 2019.
This post was also published on SCOTUSblog.