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At its simplest level, the impeachment of President Donald Trump looks like a collision between the legislative and executive branches of government. In that fight, each side is trying to defend its prerogatives as it sees them: For Congress (or at least the Democratic-led House), this includes the power to appropriate foreign aid, and the power to conduct oversight; for the executive branch, this means the power to make foreign policy as it sees fit, and to protect its internal deliberations.

What is missing from this portrait is the crucial role of the third branch of government, the judiciary, which has powerfully shaped the impeachment process by declining to exercise its prerogatives, rather than defending them. By choosing to treat the current moment as business as usual, federal courts have effectively removed themselves from the process. In effect, that has dictated what arguments can be mounted in the impeachment fight and what witnesses Congress, and the public, can hear—narrowing and obscuring the case against Trump.

None of this absolves Democrats of the decisions they’ve made. The House majority could have chosen to fight in court to compel testimony from current and former administration officials, especially former National Security Adviser John Bolton. Those fights would not have been resolved in time to hold an impeachment vote before Christmas, but that deadline is self-imposed and politically motivated. Democrats could have waited, or they could have pursued the court battle while also charging ahead.


President Donald Trump knows he has fierce Democratic adversaries in Congress. But there is also ample push-back from the Judiciary branch, where black-robed judges who sit in courtrooms just blocks from the Capitol and in New York City have repudiated his view of executive power.

Federal judges in the last two months have accused Trump administration lawyers of “openly stonewalling” and of regarding presidents as kings while also deriding Justice Department legal positions as “extraordinary,” “exactly backwards” and just plain “wrong.”

Taken together, the court rulings eviscerate the administration’s muscular view of executive power just as the impeachment inquiry against Trump accelerates.  And they embolden Democrats in their pursuit of investigations into Trump’s government and finances.

The administration at least temporarily lost its bid to shield former White House counsel Don McGahn from being questioned by Congress. It argued unsuccessfully to withhold secret grand jury testimony from special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. And lawyers for the president have tried to keep the president’s financial records away from Congress. In each instances, judges have overruled them.

To be sure, some of the most stinging losses have come from Democratic-appointed judges, and all could be overturned on appeal — well after the impeachment inquiry has ended, or after congressional Democrats have lost their appetite for the desired testimony or records. The Supreme Court, for instance, has already put on hold a lower court ruling directing Trump to produce his financial records in  a case that falls outside the impeachment inquiry.


A federal appeals court in New York on Tuesday upheld the legality of congressional subpoenas seeking President Donald Trump’s banking records but said sensitive personal information should be protected.

A three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan issued the ruling, with Judge Debra Ann Livingston saying in a partial dissent that the lower court should take a longer look at the “serious questions” raised by the case and give the parties time to negotiate.

The court said the application by the president and his children to block the subpoenas was properly denied by a judge this year.

The House Financial Services and Intelligence committees have asked Deutsche Bank and Capital One to turn over records related to Trump’s business ventures. The lawyers for the congressional committees say they need access to documents from the banks to investigate possible “foreign influence in the U.S. political process” and possible money laundering from abroad.

Trump and three of his children challenged the subpoenas. In May, U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos said Trump and his company were “highly unlikely” to succeed in proving that the subpoenas were unlawful and unconstitutional.


The Supreme Court is turning to gun rights for the first time in nearly a decade, even though those who brought the case, New York City gun owners, already have won changes to the regulation they challenged.

The justices’ persistence in hearing arguments today despite the city’s action has made gun control advocates fearful that the court’s conservative majority could use the case to call into question gun restrictions across the country.

Gun rights groups are hoping the high court is on the verge of extending its landmark rulings from 2008 and 2010 that enshrined the right to have a gun for self-defense at home.

For years, the National Rifle Association and its allies had tried to get the court to say more about gun rights, even as mass shootings may have caused the justices to shy away from taking on new disputes over gun limits. Justice Clarence Thomas has been among members of the court who have complained that lower courts are treating the Second Amendment’s right to “keep and bear arms” as a second-class right.

The lawsuit in New York began as a challenge to the city’s prohibition on carrying a licensed, locked and unloaded handgun outside the city limits, either to a shooting range or a second home.



The Supreme Court is shielding President Donald Trump’s financial records from House Democrats for now.

The delay announced late Monday allows the justices to decide how to handle the House subpoena and a similar demand from the Manhattan district attorney at the same time.

The House’s quest for the records is not part of the ongoing impeachment inquiry, but the court’s action probably means Democrats will not have the records before an expected vote on impeachment by year’s end.

The justices are giving Trump until Dec. 5 to file a full appeal of a lower court ruling calling for his accountants to turn over the records. The president’s lawyers are certain to comply, and the court’s decision about whether to take up the case is expected by mid-January.

The House Committee on Oversight and Reform had argued that Trump’s case was too weak to earn a delay from the court. There was no noted dissent from the court’s unsigned order.

The New York case centers on Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.’s subpoena for Trump’s tax returns from the same accounting firm, Mazars USA. Legal briefs have been filed by both sides in that case.

The justices now should be able to say at the same time whether they will take up the cases and decide them by late June.

If they opt to reject Trump’s appeals, the House and Vance would be able to enforce their subpoenas immediately. Mazars has said it would comply with any legal obligation.



The Supreme Court says Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been released from a Baltimore hospital where she had been treated for a possible infection.

The 86-year-old Ginsburg has returned to her home in Washington, D.C., and is “doing well,” court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said Sunday. Ginsburg spent two nights at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. She was taken there Friday after experiencing chills and fever.

The court says she received intravenous antibiotics and fluids and that her symptoms abated. Ginsburg has had four occurrences of cancer, including two in the past year. She had lung cancer surgery in December and received radiation treatment for a tumor on her pancreas in August.

She had a rare absence from a public session of the court in mid-November because of what the court said was a stomach bug. She was back on the bench the next time the justices met.

Her latest hospital stay began Friday, after the justices met in private to discuss pending cases. She was initially evaluated at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington before being transferred to Johns Hopkins for further evaluation and treatment of any possible infection.

Ginsburg has been on the court since 1993, appointed by President Bill Clinton. Only Justice Clarence Thomas has served longer among the current members of the court.


The European Union's top court ruled Tuesday that there are reasons to question the independence of a new judicial chamber in Poland that monitors and potentially punishes judges.

However, the European Court of Justice left it to Poland's highest court to determine whether the new Disciplinary Chamber is independent of influence from the nations' legislative and executive powers.

In Poland, both sides of the heated dispute around the ruling party's controversial changes to the country's judiciary declared victory upon hearing the verdict.

The head of the Supreme Court, Malgorzata Gersdorf, said the EU court clearly shared concerns over the new chamber, which is part of the Supreme Court. She vowed action aiming to "restore trust" in Poland's top court and its judicial bodies.

The right-wing government, however, said the ruling, which referred the matter back to Poland's judges, was a clear sign that the EU court believes it has no jurisdiction to assess the justice systems of member nations. Poland's ruling Law and Justice party has been voicing that opinion ever since it started to introduce changes to the judiciary when it took power in 2015.

The EU court's ruling also implied there are questions about the independence of another top body in Poland, the National Council of the Judiciary, which proposes judges for court positions, including on the Supreme Court, and is supposed to protect their independence.


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