The Supreme Court handed former President Donald Trump a loss Thursday in his dispute with the Justice Department over documents seized from his Mar-a-Lago residence, rejecting his request that a special master be allowed to review classified papers. The justices denied Trump’s relatively narrow emergency request in a brief unsigned order. There were no noted dissents.
For those who might benefit from a refresher, let’s revisit our earlier coverage and review how we arrived at this point.
It was last month when U.S. District Court Judge Aileen Cannon gave Trump and his lawyers effectively everything they wanted in the Mar-a-Lago scandal: The Trump-appointed jurist approved a request for a special master and blocked parts of the Justice Department’s ongoing investigation.
As we’ve discussed, among legal experts from the left, right and center, a consensus formed quickly: Cannon’s decision was ridiculous. Prominent legal voices used words like “nutty,” “preposterous” and “oblivious” when describing the Labor Day ruling. Neal Katyal, a former acting solicitor general, described the judge’s legal analysis as “terrible” and “awful,” before concluding: “Frankly, any of my first-year law students would have written a better opinion.”
On Sept. 21, a three-judge panel at the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals — including two Trump appointees — undid key elements of Cannon’s order.
Harvard law professor Lawrence Tribe said the 11th Circuit’s ruling read “a lot like a stern but polite reprimand of a child caught red-handed who needs to be read the riot act.”
Perhaps most important were the practical implications of these developments: Team Trump made a bizarre executive privilege argument claiming that a former president could block the executive branch from reviewing and using its own materials. Cannon agreed, blocking the Justice Department’s access, and raising questions as to whether the conservative jurist even understood the concept of executive privilege.
The 11th Circuit undid this egregious mistake, telling federal officials that they can again use the classified materials retrieved from the Republican’s glorified country club.
Team Trump filed a narrow appeal with the Supreme Court, related specifically to Judge Raymond Dearie’s access as special master to reviewing the documents. From the NBC News report:
Trump’s lawyers had said the decision to block Dearie’s access “impairs substantially the ongoing, time-sensitive work of the special master.” ... Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar, on behalf of the Justice Department, said in court papers that Trump would suffer “no harm at all” if the documents are temporarily withheld from the special master. Addressing Trump’s potential ownership stake in the documents, including possible assertions of attorney-client privilege of executive privilege, Prelogar said Trump had “no plausible claims.”
The justices responded today with a one-sentence order: “The application to vacate the stay entered by the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit on September 21, 2022, presented to Justice Thomas and by him referred to the Court is denied.”
If any justices dissented, they kept their concerns to themselves.
Between this news and the Jan. 6 committee’s subpoena, if the former president throws a tantrum later today, at least we’ll know why.