The Supreme Court on Thursday issued its final opinions of the 2019-20 term, deciding blockbuster cases on President Donald Trump’s financial documents and the status of Native American land in Oklahoma.
Amy Howe explains the pair of rulings on Trump’s financial records in an analysis for SCOTUSblog that first appeared at Howe on the Court. Adam Liptak of the New York Times writes that the decision in Trump v. Vance — involving a Manhattan grand jury’s access to Trumps’s records — is “a stunning defeat for Mr. Trump and a major statement on the scope and limits of presidential power.” NPR’s Nina Totenberg calls the Vance decision “a clean win for the New York district attorney” that “will likely guarantee access to a broad range of documents that had been subpoenaed from Trump’s accountants and from banks that have loaned the Trump business empire billions of dollars.” David Savage of the Los Angeles Times, however, notes that “because the grand jury operates in secret, it is unlikely the general public will see Trump’s financial records before the November election, if ever.” In the Wall Street Journal, Brent Kendall and Jess Bravin write that the court’s ruling in the companion case of Trump v. Mazars USA — which involved congressional subpoenas — is a “mixed decision.” Steven Mazie of the Economist says Chief Justice John Roberts employed a “pox-on-both-your-houses analysis” before kicking the Mazars subpoenas back to the lower courts.
According to Robert Barnes of the Washington Post, the Vance and Mazars rulings, taken together, delivered “a nuanced and likely landmark lesson on the separation of powers and limits of presidential authority.” Also at the Post, Toluse Olorunnipa and John Wagner detail the president’s angry reaction to the decisions. Kevin Daly of the Washington Free Beacon writes that the two rulings “mean the president’s long-sought financial records will probably not be made public before the November election.” The Opening Arguments podcast argues, contrary to some other commentators, that the rulings might affect the 2020 election after all.
In another landmark decision Thursday, the court held in McGirt v. Oklahoma that a large swath of territory in Oklahoma remains a Native American reservation because Congress never formally changed its status. SCOTUSblog’s analysis is from Ronald Mann, who calls the decision “a stunning reaffirmance of the nation’s obligations to Native Americans.” Sean Murphy and Jessica Gresko of the Associated Press report that the decision “means that Oklahoma prosecutors lack the authority to pursue criminal cases against American Indian defendants in parts of Oklahoma that include most of Tulsa, the state’s second-largest city.” Jack Healy and Adam Liptak write for the New York Times that “many of the specific impacts will be determined by negotiations between state and federal authorities and five Native American tribes in Oklahoma.” At Education Week’s School Law Blog, Mark Walsh examines the decision’s implications for Oklahoma’s public education system. And Niina Farah of E&E News considers the implications for oil and gas development in the state.
With the court entering its summer recess, Richard Wolf of USA Today looks back at an unpredictable and unprecedented Supreme Court term and notes that, in 62 cases this term, Roberts was in the majority 60 times. Joan Biskupic of CNN writes that Thursday’s rulings on Trump’s financial documents were “a fitting capstone to a Supreme Court session dominated by Roberts, who balanced his conservative impulses with a quest for institutional respect.” At Slate, Dahlia Lithwick and Mark Joseph Stern also shine a spotlight on Roberts’ influence, arguing that he attempted to insulate the court from electoral politics while scoring “indisputable points for judicial supremacy.”
- Alan Morrison, writing for On the Docket, the George Washington Law Review’s Supreme Court blog, analyzes the Vance and Mazars rulings and concludes that, while Trump “won the short-term battle” to keep his tax returns secret, the court has armed Congress “with the tools it needs to gather the information that it wants to carry out its legislative responsibilities.” Additional commentary on Vance and Mazars comes from Bill Blum, who writes for The Progressive that Roberts’ opinions in both cases “rebuffed Trump’s arguments of sweeping presidential immunity and reaffirmed the bedrock principle that no one — including the President — is above the law.”
- In an op-ed in the New York Times, Michael McConnell argues that the court’s three recent decisions on religious freedom (Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania and Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru) “can be seen not as advancing left or right but instead as protecting pluralism — the right of individuals and institutions to be different, to teach different doctrines, to dissent from dominant cultural norms and to practice what they preach.”
- At PrawfsBlawg, commentators delve into some revealing footnotes in Little Sisters of the Poor. Howard Wasserman comments on the scope of nationwide injunctions by analyzing a footnote in Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dissent, and James Phillips examines a footnote in Justice Elena Kagan’s concurrence and argues that it misreads the majority opinion Kagan joined in Our Lady of Guadalupe.
- Additional commentary on the Little Sisters cases comes from Priscilla Smith, who argues at the Human Rights At Home Blog that the decision “gives carte blanche to governments to trample on the rights of some to accommodate the beliefs of a chosen group of others, whether those beliefs are rooted in religion or not.” Also at Human Rights At Home Blog, in a post titled “Queering Justice Gorsuch’s Textualism in Bostock,” Jeremiah Ho analyzes the future of LGBTQ rights after the court’s recent extension of Title VII protections in Bostock v. Clayton County. The same blog also breaks down the “astonishing” ruling in McGirt.
- At the Crime & Consequences blog, Kent Scheidegger opines on the criminal-law implications of Thursday’s McGirt ruling. Scheidegger also notes that Texas resumed executions Wednesday after the Supreme Court allowed the execution of Billy Wardlow to proceed.
- At Mayer Brown’s Class Defense Blog, Archis Parasharami, Kevin Ranlett and Daniel Jones analyze the court’s recent decision in Barr v. American Association of Political Consultants and the future of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.
- At the Second Thoughts Blog from the Duke Center for Firearms Law, Daniel Rice examines the court’s “void for vagueness” doctrine and how it might relate to the Second Amendment, drawing on Justice Clarence Thomas’ concurrence in United States v. Sineneng-Smith, which the court decided in May.
- Mark Walsh of Education Week reports on one of the new cases that the justices added to their docket for next term: Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski, which involves “whether a government agency’s change to an allegedly unconstitutional policy is enough to make a lawsuit challenging that policy moot when the plaintiff seeks only nominal damages, as opposed to a larger claim for compensation.”
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