Court Hawk
President Donald Trump greets Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts
REUTERS | Jonathan Ernst

Supreme Court to Hear Case on Mueller Grand Jury Materials

In a highly contentious case, the Supreme Court may decide whether the House of Representatives gets to see sealed grand jury materials relating to the Mueller Report. Last year, Special Counsel Robert Mueller completed a lengthy report on the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.

However, the Department of Justice heavily redacted some sections, saying they were grand jury materials that the House of Representatives could not be privy to.

The House, however, has cited decades of precedence that holds that grand jury materials can be unsealed by courts if they pertain to judicial proceedings. At debate is whether the House of Representatives functions as a court when engaging in an impeachment hearing. A related question: is an impeachment hearing a judicial proceeding?

Judicial Proceedings and the Constitution

Many legal scholars feel the House is right. They should have access to grand jury materials. Their reasoning is that the Constitution uses language that indicates that impeachment proceedings are, in fact, judicial proceedings. The language includes words like “judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office.” This reading is plainly judicial, House lawyers argue.

Likewise, precedence in similar cases has borne out this reading. In 1811, an impeachment inquiry into Judge Harry Toulmin was started after a grand jury forwarded materials to the House of Representatives.

Likewise, in the Nixon impeachment, grand jury materials relating to the Watergate scandal were sent to the House.

What the Supreme Court Has to do With This

The Supreme Court has the opportunity to hear this case. The Department of Justice has filed a petition for certiorari. After losing the case in the district court and the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the department has asked the Supreme Court to review the case. The department hopes that the high court will overturn the lower court decisions.

The DOJ argues that a rule allowing for the disclosure of grand jury materials would saddle federal courts with the responsibility of acting as “gatekeepers” for impeachment proceedings. The Circuit Court for the District of Columbia, however, disagrees. In their majority opinion, they wrote why they challenged the DOJ’s view.

Circuit Courts Deal DOJ Serious Blow

They argued that courts can “mitigate such concerns in the impeachment context because the district court need only decide if the requested grand jury materials are relevant to the impeachment investigation … without commenting on the propriety of that investigation.”

Complicating matters for the DOJ: there is no dissenting opinion. Circuit courts, historically, have been unanimous in their decisions that the House can see grand jury documents. Typically, some type of “circuit split” is required before the Supreme Court will agree to take up a case. No such split decision exists in this case.