U.S. Supreme Court Rules Against Unconditional Presidential Immunity

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In the case of Trump v. Vance, the Supreme Court of the United States that a sitting President is not immune to a criminal investigation. The Supreme Court has ruled against complete presidential immunity. It has allowed a New York prosecutor to access the financial records of the President. This case marks the first state criminal subpoena sent to a President. The President had claimed that the same is unenforceable.

Facts of the Case 

The New York County District Attorney’s Office opened an investigation. This was into certain business transactions. These transactions involved several individuals. There was a clear violation of the state law. It was served on Trump’s personal accounting firm as a subpoena duces tecum. This was to gain access to his financial records.

Donald Trump, in his own capacity, sued both the district attorney as well as his accounting firm. “A sitting President enjoys absolute immunity from state criminal process under Article II and the Supremacy Clause,” said the President.

He filed the suit in the Federal District Court. The Court dismissed the case. It also held that the President was not entitled to injunctive relief. However, the Second Circuit rejected the dismissal of the case. But it agreed with the denial of injunctive relief. It also concluded that Presidential immunity did not entail a hurdle to the subpoena’s application. The subpoena need not “satisfy a heightened showing of need”.

The Judgment

The judgement began on an all-inclusive tenor. It stated that “everyman” in the judicial system also included the President of the United States. The Court cited the example of the former U.S. Presidents like Jefferson and Clinton. It said that the U.S. Presidents have never backed off from testifying. Or it was producing documents in criminal proceedings.

While referring to the case of United States v. Aaron Burr, the Court said that “the Chief Executive is subject to subpoena”. They also used the same case as a precedent in United States v. Nixon. They had rejected Nixon’s claims of absolute privilege granting complete confidentiality.

The Court turned down Trump’s arguments, providing clarification. It said that state criminal subpoenas did not impair the performance of functions. The functions mandated under the Constitution’s Article II. Such a criminal investigation would mar the President’s reputation. This would further question the President’s “leadership at home and abroad”. This argument was also not accepted by the Court. The Court added the following that a criminal investigation could absolve the President of his important public duties.

Authorship

Chief Justice John Roberts authored the ruling. Associate Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer joined him. Along with Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh.

Both Associate Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented. Their contention was that the subpoena in question was unprecedented. This was because a local prosecutor had never subpoenaed a sitting President’s records.

Regardless, the majority ruled against granting the President an unrestricted immunity.


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