President Donald Trump has touted his appointment of two Supreme Court justices and numerous federal judges in lower courts as huge achievements for his administration. However, during the current session, the Supreme Court has handed the Trump administration numerous defeats.
LGBT workers’ rights, DACA protections, Native American land disputes, and even rulings into Trump’s own finances have gone against the administration’s hopes.
Trump himself has been baffled by the perceived betrayal. After all, five of the nine Supreme Court justices were appointed by conservatives. What gives?
Of course, Supreme Court justices aren’t actually bound by party allegiance the way politicians are. They’re judges, appointed for life and more than capable of voting their conscience on tough cases. This leaves them largely unaffected by ongoing political struggles in Washington.
Supreme Court Asserts Independence
On Thursday, the Supreme Court blocked House Democrats from accessing Trump’s finances. However, they also held the Manhattan District Attorney could keep seeking Trump’s tax records. Their case is in connection to a suspected hush money payment.
In essence, the court kicked the case back to the lower circuits, leaving the door open for investigators to pry Trump’s finances from his tight grip.
The president has fiercely defended his personal finance records. He was the first president in modern history to not disclose his tax returns. Likewise, he has claimed broad presidential immunity to numerous investigations into his money.
For a time, the president was adamant that he could simply not be charged with any wrongdoing while in office. Attorney General William Barr backed this, citing a Justice Department memo that stops suits from being brought against the president while in office.
Supreme Court Repudiates Claims
The Supreme Court unanimously ruled that Trump was mistaken in this belief. His declaration of complete presidential immunity to investigation caused even Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, Trump appointees themselves, to rule against him. The move underscores how entrenched the ideas of checks and balances are in the highest court in the land.
Just as in similar cases with Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon, the Supreme Court remains a bulwark against unchecked executive power. This is unsurprising to many legal scholars. The job of the Supreme Court is to interpret laws through a Constitutional lens.
The Constitution makes it clear that the three branches of government are coequal. As such, it’s not a shock that the justices would strike down any claim to unlimited power by any politician, even the president who appointed some of them to their very positions.