Politics

Supreme Court to decide whether House Democrats can get Mueller grand jury docs

Key Points
  • The Supreme Court said it will hear the Trump administration's appeal of a decision that would force the Justice Department to turn over to Congress grand jury materials produced in Robert Mueller's inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
  • The move, announced in an order with no noted dissents, effectively denies House Democrats the opportunity to review the documents before Election Day.
  • The case will likely be heard in the court's term beginning in October, with a decision expected by the end of June.
Former Special Counsel Robert Mueller testifies before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on Capitol Hill on Wednesday July 24, 2019 in Washington, DC.
Melina Mara | The Washington Post | Getty Images

The Supreme Court said Thursday it will hear the Trump administration's appeal of a decision that would force the Justice Department to turn over to Congress grand jury materials produced in former special counsel Robert Mueller's inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The move, announced in an order with no noted dissents, effectively denies House Democrats the opportunity to review the documents before Election Day. The votes of four justices on the nine-member panel are required to hear a case.

The case will likely be heard in the court's term beginning in October, with a decision expected by the end of June. President Donald Trump is facing reelection against presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden in November, meaning it is possible the case could be decided after Trump leaves office, or even dismissed as being no longer relevant.

The normally secretive documents were requested by the Democratic-led House Judiciary Committee, which has said it is pursuing an investigation into possible impeachable offenses. 

A divided panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ordered the Justice Department to turn over the records in March. The Supreme Court temporarily halted the appeals court's ruling in late May to consider the issue.

While grand jury materials are normally closely guarded, federal law allows for their disclosure in connection with a "judicial proceeding." 

House Democrats argue that an impeachment investigation qualifies as such a proceeding. They have said that they are considering whether to impeach the president on new charges for which the Mueller materials could be relevant, despite Trump's acquittal by the Senate in February on Ukraine-related impeachment charges. 

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The Justice Department has said impeachment does not qualify as a judicial proceeding. In court papers submitted to the top court, Solicitor General Noel Francisco argued that the Democrats' position raised significant separation of powers issues. Francisco announced last month that he would be leaving the Justice Department effective Friday. 

In urging the justices not to review the matter, Douglas Letter, an attorney for House Democrats, wrote that "DOJ has things backwards."

"The only threat to Congress's constitutional prerogatives comes from DOJ's newly minted position, which would categorically deny Congress access to grand-jury material for use in impeachments — thereby treating a core constitutional function less favorably than routine civil and criminal litigation," Letter wrote. 

In a statement on Thursday, Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., said Trump and Attorney General William Barr "are continuing to try to run out the clock on any and all accountability.  While I am confident their legal arguments will fail, it is now all the more important for the American people to hold the President accountable at the ballot box in November."

A spokesperson for  the Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

The case is Department of Justice v. House Committee on the Judiciary, No. 19-1328.