Supreme Court to Hear Case on Congressional Power to Sue Executive Agencies for Documents
The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case on whether individual Democratic members of Congress can pursue a lawsuit seeking government documents related to the former Trump International Hotel in Washington. The case presents inquiries into the circumstances in which individual Congress members, rather than an entire committee, possess the lawful authority to bring a lawsuit against an executive agency for the provision of documents pursuant to Section 2954 of a federal law. By utilizing the “Seven Member Rule,” Democrats were able to request the necessary documents. This federal law permits either a group of seven members from the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability or a group of five members from the Senate Homeland Security Committee to acquire information from executive agencies relevant to their jurisdiction.
The incident traces its roots to when Donald Trump was still a citizen in 2013 and entered into an agreement with the General Services Administration to rent the Old Post Office Building in Washington, D.C. to transform it into the Trump International Hotel. The representatives in the House pursued access to those records using various methods, such as invoking a federal statute that mandates executive agencies to furnish information to Congress members. According to Section 2954, an executive agency can be requested to provide information by either the Committee on Government Operations of the House of Representatives, a group of seven committee members, the Committee on Governmental Affairs of the Senate, or a group of five committee members.
The Carnahan v. Maloney lawsuit, which seeks to give a minority group of Congressional lawmakers the authority to investigate a president's actions, has been opposed by the Biden administration. The decision is now up to the Supreme Court of the United States, which on Monday agreed to hear the case, first filed in 2017 by Democratic lawmakers. Although the General Services Administration controlled under Trump refused the request, the Biden administration is maintaining a similar defense as the previous administration. The reason for this is probably because the DOJ under Biden considers the previous decision made by the lower appeals court to be a negative example that could lead any administration into precarious legal battles.
If SCOTUS rules in favor of the Democratic lawmakers, Congress will have more power to investigate a sitting president in the future, even without the votes needed for a subpoena. It is uncommon for a president to be subpoenaed as Congress is frequently narrowly split, with only a few instances in American history. Legislative committees don't typically subpoena information in that manner. Typically, House Committees demand that a subpoena be authorized by either the committee majority or the committee chairman. When Trump assumed office in 2017, the Democrats were in the minority and thus had to find a workaround to obtain the documents by utilizing the 1928 statute available to members of the committee.
The Biden administration has requested the Supreme Court to review a lower court's ruling, contending that it contradicts historical practices that date back to the formation of the Republic and goes against the Supreme Court's precedents. The lower court's decision allowed Congress members to sue a federal agency for not disclosing information requested under Section 2954. The Justice Department wrote in its request, “That decision conflicts with this Court’s precedents and contradicts historical practice stretching to the beginning of the Republic. Additionally, the resolution addresses crucial matters regarding constitutional law and poses a significant danger to the functioning of the three branches of the federal government. This Court should grant certiorari and reverse.”
The case, Carnahan v. Maloney, turns on a 95-year-old federal law commonly known as “the seven-member rule,” which allows any seven members of the House Oversight Committee to demand records from anywhere in the federal government. The case presents inquiries into the circumstances in which individual Congress members, rather than an entire committee, possess the lawful authority to bring a lawsuit against an executive agency for the provision of documents pursuant to Section 2954 of a federal law. The Biden administration has opposed the lawsuit, following on from the Trump administration, claiming that ruling in the Democrats' favor could bring forth a slew of cases that become a distraction for the sitting president.
In the event of a Democratic victory, minority lawmakers may acquire the power to investigate a president's conduct, even if they do not possess sufficient votes to authorize a subpoena. The case has the potential to give members of the minority in Congress more power to investigate a presidential administration of the opposite party. The decision will likely constrain the tendency of some members of Congress to litigate when they should legislate. The Supreme Court's ultimate decision will likely have far-reaching implications for the balance of power between Congress and the Executive.
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