The Supreme Court can’t escape Clinton v. Jones in Trump v. Vance.

One of those cases, “Trump v. Vance,” concerns a New York district attorney’s subpoena for Trump’s tax returns and other financial documents from his accounting firm Mazars as part of a grand jury investigation of possible falsifying of state business records surrounding potential federal campaign finance violations. Trump has argued that the subpoena is unlawful because, in his view, the president enjoys an absolute immunity from criminal process that sweeps so far that it precludes a pre-indictment grand jury subpoena directed at a third-party simply because the underlying investigation pertains to the president. If the Supreme Court adopts that theory, it would be a dramatic expansion in the narrow immunity previously afforded other presidents, threatening to give not only this president—but also all future presidents—the protections of a king.

…It is difficult to square with the Supreme Court’s prior ruling in “Clinton v. Jones,” which the court decided unanimously in 1997. That case concerned a civil suit by a private citizen concerning possible sexual misconduct by President Bill Clinton. In that case, Clinton challenged the subpoena for his testimony and any subsequent civil trial under the theory that “the Constitution affords the president temporary immunity from civil damages litigation arising out of events that occurred before he took office.” The court unanimously rejected this theory and permitted that lawsuit to go forward. As multiple justices noted during the oral argument on Tuesday, the outcome of that case seriously undermines Trump’s arguments in Vance.

…The Jones court held that even a presidential deposition was permissible, reasoning that “[t]he fact that a federal court’s exercise of its traditional Article III jurisdiction may significantly burden the time and attention of the Chief Executive is not sufficient to establish a violation of the Constitution.” Moreover, as Chief Justice John Roberts noted, Mazars’ compliance with the subpoena will not require the same energy and attention—if it requires any attention of the president at all—as would defending oneself in a civil trial, something the court also approved in Jones.

…Notably, this case also presents far less stigma than a president being named an unindicted co-conspirator, something that the Watergate special prosecutor’s office argued was permissible back in 1974.

…At bottom, then, a president would be protected by federal judges from truly bad-faith subpoenas that impede his ability to do his job. As the court in Clinton v. Jones reasoned, “we have confidence in the ability of our federal judges to deal with [this] concern.”

…his was the same concern the court acknowledged in Jones when it refused to delay that case, reasoning that “delaying trial would increase the danger of prejudice resulting from the loss of evidence, including the inability of witnesses to recall specific facts, or the possible death of a party.”

The Supreme Court can’t escape Clinton v. Jones in Trump v. Vance.



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