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Presidential Powers Checked, Trump Loses Like Nixon At Supreme Court

July 9, 2020

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In 2016 Mitt Romney said there may be “a bombshell” in Donald Trump’s tax forms, and that was why they had not been released.  For a top Republican to have made such a statement, during an intense and highly bombastic election, was nothing short of startling.

Romney suggested either the tax forms would show Trump is not nearly as wealthy as he claims or that he had paid such a paltry tax rate that it would show he is what all know him to be.

Or as I term it, a grifter.

The continuing saga of Trump’s taxes, and the weaving and dodging that his lawyers take to make sure no one ever sees them, took a dramatic turn at the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court in two 7-2 decisions, with Cheif Justice John Roberts writing both rulings, made the goal of prosecutors in New York easier with their efforts to see Trump’s financial records.  It was a loss of stunning proportions for Trump, but a major victory for the foundations of what our civic books taught us about law and justice in our nation.

In the other ruling, the court decided Congress could not, at least for now, see many of the same records. It said that case should be returned to a lower court to narrow the parameters of the information being sought for their investigations.  I wish the power for congressional oversight and our system of checks and balances had been allowed a firmer hand in today’s ruling.

The last time there was a court case of this magnitude, dealing with presidential power of the scope presented regarding these tax forms, was when President Richard Nixon wanted to further obstruct justice by denying access to the famed Watergate tape recordings.  Then, as we witnessed today, the court sided with restrictions on presidential power.  We all can claim a huge win because the decision said Trump had no absolute right to block the release of the papers.

The words from the ruling were precise and carry the gravitas the nation needs at this time when Trump has foisted illiberal democratic actions upon the republic.

In our judicial system, “the public has a right to every man’s evidence,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote.  “Since the earliest days of the Republic, ‘every man’ has included the president of the United States. Beginning with Jefferson and carrying on through Clinton, presidents have uniformly testified or produced documents in criminal proceedings when called upon by federal courts.”

He added: “(W)e cannot conclude that absolute immunity is necessary or appropriate under Article II or the Supremacy Clause.”

“No citizen, not even the president, is categorically above the common duty to produce evidence when called upon in a criminal proceeding.”

Trump may still raise objections to the scope and relevance of the subpoena for the papers. Litigation over those new objections will last many months or longer, but we have the grifter on the run.  And that is no small thing.

This blog has long contended many of the answers to Trump’s actions on the international stage would be revealed with the tax forms.  The citizens of this nation have to ask why Trump attempts so vigorously to hide his tax returns?   We should put this matter into historical terms.  No other president in the last 50 years has felt that they needed to keep all their tax returns secret.

Just consider the last election cycles, and it is easy to laugh at Republicans who have cheered Trump on over his had behavior at a time when both President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton,  along with President Obama released decades of tax returns. Yet Trump has fought in court, appeals to ever-higher levels, in a maddening determination to keep his tax returns secret.

It is no small thing to claim that the rule of law is still the guardrails on our republic.  These are trying times, as we all know too well.  While I would have liked to see an even harder knock on the concept of a unitary executive, I know that court cases are made at the margins many times.  I wish the oversight power of Congress had been provided the foundation it deserved in a nation that is to have three separate and powerfully effective branches.

But having said what I wished had happened does not detract from what was won.  A solid win that limited presidential power and a stunning loss for Trump who has done more to undermine our republic than anyone since Andrew Johnson severely botched reconstruction.

And so it goes.

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