The U.S. Supreme Court issued orders in several high profile cases on Monday morning that suggest a marked desire to break from some of the most controversial disputes of the Trump era.
Mostly, the court elected to dispense with culture war hallmarks of the past four years that radiated through cable news as evidence of distinctly Trump-inspired division. In a couple of situations related to deeper-riven ideological battles, however, the nine justices granted review and will eventually hear oral arguments.
Chief among the spats declined by the high court was an application for a stay in the case stylized as Trump v. Vance, finally ending the 45th president’s ultimately quixotic quest to keep his financial records out of the hands of New York City investigators.
The former occupant of the White House spent nearly two years and an untold amount of legal fees attempting to bar the enforcement of an Aug. 2019 subpoena issued by outgoing Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance against the American subsidiary of Donald Trump’s Paris-based accounting firm, Mazars USA LLP.
Multiple courts ruled in Vance’s favor—including the U.S. Supreme Court in a landmark case that found a sitting president is not immune from state criminal process–but a phalanx of lawyers successfully stalled the release of Trump’s tax returns and other financial documents by appealing to various federal courts on various grounds. Trump was denied at the district level; then at the appellate level; then at the appellate level again.
Without a word, the court dismissed Trump’s final shot at keeping the records out of Vance’s hands by refusing to stay the Oct. 2020 appellate ruling directing Mazars to comply with the subpoena.
Notably, the ruling does not mean the public will be able to access Trump’s financial information. Vance and the next person to occupy the DA’s office in the Big Apple will now be able to comb through those documents for evidence of potential criminality. In particular are concerns raised by Michael Cohen in congressional testimony regarding alleged insurance fraud by Trump and his family business.
Speaking of Cohen, adult actress Stormy Daniels, whose allegations of a pre-presidential affair with Trump resulted in cascading effects that indirectly caused the above-referenced scandal, the film star herself had a case dismissed by the nation’s high court on Monday.
Stylized as Clifford v. Trump, Daniels (legally known as Stephanie Clifford) sued Trump for defamation after he suggested via Twitter that she lied about being threatened by someone—apparently on his behalf—because she wanted to disclose details of their alleged tryst.
The effort was uphill for Daniels from the start as the bar for defamation is quite high in California. The U.S. District Court for the Central District of California ruled in Trump’s favor, finding that his statement was “‘rhetorical hyperbole’ normally associated with politics and public discourse in the United States.” The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit was not any friendlier territory for Daniels and they affirmed the lower court’s dismissal, finding that Trump’s statement was more of an opinion than a statement of fact. Opinions can never form the basis of defamation claims in the U.S.
Technically, the case turned on more obscure legal issues concerning Texas’s version of California’s anti-SLAPP statute. Strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP) are anti-speech lawsuits generally cloaked under other legal pretenses but which effectively chill, censor and intimidate free speech by forcing defendants to shell out cash for the legal fees necessary to defend against them. In essence, Trump aimed to apply the Lone Star State’s own extremely high bar to defamation and, in the end, he won.
The highest court in the land’s giveth and taketh away dance continued in perhaps the issue nearest the former president’s heart—never substantiated claims of electoral fraud during the 2020 presidential election. Seven total challenges were rejected. Those rejections concerned lawsuits aimed at overturning President Joe Biden’s wins in Georgia, Arizona, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Three of the seven dismissed challenges were filed in Pennsylvania alone but only one of those lawsuits resulted in any public discussion.
In the substantially similar cases of Republican Party of Pennsylvania v. Veronica Degraffenreid and Corman v. Pennsylvania Democratic Party, the Keystone State GOP aimed to revisit the issue of late-arriving mail-in ballots on the basis that the state legislature’s power to determine the “Manner” of federal elections was usurped by the state’s elections officials.
Conservative Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch dissented—resulting in a victory for the court’s liberals and the institutional-minded Chief Justice John Roberts (and acrimony from the right over perceived betrayals by Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett). Thomas penned his own blistering dissent while Alito penned another dissent which Gorsuch joined.
The six justices who voted to reject those lawsuits didn’t say a word, leaving the victorious parties to press releases and statements that serve as the capstone to the dozens of election fraud-themed lawsuits filed by Trump and his allies before, during and after the 2020 election.
“This Supreme Court action once and for all ends these frivolous election cases,” the City of Detroit’s lead counsel David Fink told Law&Crime. “Every claim of election fraud in Michigan has been rejected. It’s time for the attorneys who filed these baseless lawsuits to be held accountable for their actions.”
On the other hand, the high court decided to keep litigation alive concerning two permanently-hot-button issues that predate Trump era politics in the United States: (1) immigration; and (2) abortion.
The first case concerns the so-called “public charge” rule, which aims to deny permanent residency to legal immigrants in the United States if they take advantage of statutorily entitled public benefits programs like SNAP, Medicaid or public housing.
The rule was previously rejected at both the district court and the appellate court level but the Department of Homeland Security appealed all the way up the ladder of law. But this case could be taken off the docket because the Biden administration is reviewing whether or not they intend to defend the Trump era anti-immigrant rule.
As for abortion, the Trump administration locked itself into the mainstream of GOP governing philosophy by taking several steps in support of the pro-life movement. One of those efforts was a rule that prohibited recipients of Title X funds from performing or referring a patient for an abortion.
The arguments here are set to be heard in several consolidated cases and could, in theory, also be taken off the court’s docket eventually as Biden has explicitly promised to revoke the so-called “domestic gag rule,” though it’s possible that such a revocation could itself be subject to legal action that might keep the controversy alive long enough for the justices to take it up.
[image via Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]
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