The Supreme Court has a new mixed drink: it’s five parts formalism to four parts functionalism, with a splash of Humphrey’s Executor. This new drink was on full display in Seila Law LLC v. CFPB, in which five Justices concluded that Congress violated the separation of powers when it placed limits on the President’s power to fire the CFPB’s director. Those five Justices used what’s called the “formalist” approach, prevailing over the competing “functionalist” approach adopted by the four dissenting Justices. Throughout history, the Court has oscillated between formalism and functionalism, especially in cases involving the President’s power to remove public officials. For the latter half of the 20th century, functionalism appeared to be the dominant approach to removal-power cases—until two recent decisions from the Roberts court. Might formalism now be seeing a resurgence?
The Supreme Court’s term has now come to a close. The Court decided its last seven cases this week, capturing headlines and filling margins across the country. It handed President Trump an 0-1-1 record on his tax returns, ruling against him on the New York subpoena and sending the Congressional subpoena back to the lower court. It ruled that, for the purposes of the Major Crimes Act, the vast majority of eastern Oklahoma is Creek “Indian country” (yes, you read that right). It ruled against “faithless electors.” It rejected a procedural challenge to the Trump administration’s new religious exemptions to Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate. And it struck down an exception to the federal ban on robocalls. At the center of it all was Chief Justice John Roberts, now the Court’s anchor and swing Justice, who voted with the majority in 58 of the term’s 60 cases (a 97% clip). Here is your final weekly brief for O.T. 2019.
The Supreme Court handed down three decisions this week, each one consequential in its own regard. In the only Second Amendment case of the term, six Justices found the case to be, well, no longer a case—in other words, they dismissed it as moot and didn’t opine on the Second Amendment implications (see my in-depth analysis of the decision here [forthcoming]). Next, the Court slapped Congress and the Department of Health and Human Services on the wrist—along with a $12 billion tab due private insurers. Finally, a 5:4 majority barred legislators from copyrighting annotations they write to state laws. Here’s your brief for the week of April 27.
Over the past few months, the U.S. House of Representatives and the Manhattan District Attorney have issued subpoenas for President Trump’s personal and corporate tax returns. Trump has fought the subpoenas vigourously, filing lawsuits to block the release of his tax returns and arguing that the subpoenas are unconstitutional. Those lawsuits have percolated through the federal courts; the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the congressional subpoena, and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the District Attorney’s subpoena. Now Trump has appealed both decisions. Both lawsuits now sit before the Supreme Court and await action from the nine Justices. This article gives a comprehensive overview of both of Trump’s tax returns cases. I analyze the D.C. Circuit and Second Circuit’s opinions, issued before Trump’s appeal to the Supreme Court. I assess each parties’ arguments as they are now laid out in briefs filed with the Supreme Court. I lay out timelines for both cases and explain what the Supreme Court might do and when. Finally, I give my own thoughts on some of the critical legal questions the cases present.