In a ruling sure to infuriate former president Trump, the Supreme Court has shown rare unity in rejecting his claims of executive privilege — clearing the way for hundreds of pages presidential documents from his final days in office to be delivered to Congress’ January 6th committee. The records are expected to include presidential call logs on the day of the insurrection, drafts of speeches, hand-written notes from Trump and his advisers, among other potentially damning documents.
The court announced its ruling in an 8-to-1 opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts and made public on Wednesday afternoon. Only justice Clarence Thomas dissented. Trump appointee Brett Kavanaugh issued a separate statement that he believed the court’s decision “should not be considered binding precedent going forward.”
At issue were two conflicting claims of presidential privilege. The sitting president, Joe Biden, does not consider the documents requested by House investigators to be privileged. Trump — consistent with his efforts to keep his involvement in the events of Jan. 6 2021 as opaque as possible — invoked his own executive privilege as a past president in an attempt to block the release.
The SCOTUS ruling against Trump was brutal and swift, comprising less than a full page.
Justice Roberts acknowledges that the balance of interests in this case are intriguing. “The questions whether and in what circumstances a former President may obtain a court order preventing disclosure of privileged records from his tenure in office, in the face of a determination by the incumbent President to waive the privilege, are unprecedented and raise serious and substantial concerns,” Roberts writes.
But Roberts, writing for seven other justices, takes cover behind the ruling of the appeals court that examined Trump’s claims — effectively saying that Trump lost so badly in court in the last round that he has no ripe arguments to present to the highest court in the land.
“Because the Court of Appeals concluded that President Trump’s claims would have failed even if he were the incumbent,” Roberts writes, “his status as a former President necessarily made no difference to the court’s decision.
Justice Thomas’ dissent contains no legal analysis, stating only that he would grant Trump’s request.
The upshot of the ruling — beyond the rebuke delivered to Trump by the three justices he appointed to the court — is that House investigators are one step closer to documenting the extent of Trump’s complicity in the insurrection that sought to block the peaceful transfer of power by foiling the certification of the count by the Electoral College.