This morning the Supreme Court issued orders from the justices’ private conference last week. The justices did not act on two cases that have been repeatedly relisted in recent weeks, a death-penalty case from Texas and the federal government’s challenge to one of California’s “sanctuary state” laws, which prohibit state and local law-enforcement officials from cooperating with federal immigration officials. The most noteworthy order came instead in a set of cases scheduled for argument in the justices’ upcoming argument session and could potentially derail congressional efforts to obtain President Donald Trump’s financial records.
The justices have scheduled oral argument for May 12 in a trio of cases involving efforts by the U.S. House of Representatives and a Manhattan district attorney to obtain Trump’s financial records from his long-time accountant and his lenders. In the two cases involving Congress, which are consolidated for one hour of argument, the question is whether the committees can subpoena Trump’s records, while in the New York case the question is whether a state grand-jury subpoena can be enforced while the president is in office. Today the justices asked the parties to the congressional-subpoena cases and the federal government, which filed a “friend of the court” brief supporting Trump, to file supplemental briefs addressing whether the political-question doctrine applies to the cases – that is, whether courts should stay out of the fight over the subpoenas because it is fundamentally a political dispute between the branches of government. If the justices were to conclude that the doctrine applies, they could dismiss the cases without ruling on the merits of the dispute – which might be a particularly appealing outcome for some justices in the lead-up to the presidential election. Such a decision could have mixed results for Trump: Without a ruling in his favor, he might not be able to block the accountant or lenders from turning over the records, but on the other hand Congress would not be able to enforce a subpoena if the companies holding the records opted not to comply.
The justices will meet again for their next conference on Friday, May 1. We expect orders from that conference on Monday, May 4, at 9:30 a.m. EDT.
This post is also published on SCOTUSblog.