By Robert A. Vella
The U.S. judicial system is getting scared to do its job. Instead of acting as the legal arbiter for issues which can’t be resolved through administrative or legislative means, the highest federal courts are increasingly avoiding definitive rulings while trying to walk a tightrope between opposing political and cultural forces which are tearing the nation apart. This judicial cowardice comes at the very time when the most divisive random element since the Civil War – Donald Trump – demands principled action from America’s courts. If judges are so fearful that they can’t decide what is legal and what is not, what is constitutional and what is not, and what is right versus what is wrong, then the rule of law becomes mute and behavior becomes the anarchistic realm of subjective opinion.
Folks, this is how democracies die.
A three-judge panel for the U.S. Second Court of Appeals Second Circuit ruled that President Trump must release his tax returns to federal prosecutors in New York; however, it refused to rule on whether he must also release those financial records to state prosecutors, and more importantly it refused to rule on Trump’s primary argument before the court that as president he is immune from all criminal investigation and prosecution – i.e. blanket immunity which is clearly not specified or even implied in the U.S. Constitution.
For an issue of such magnitude, shouldn’t the full Second Court of Appeals have ruled on this case? Considering the three-judge panel’s lack of clarity, why didn’t it? Because of a jurisdictional technicality, or was it the panel’s intention all along to send the case up to the U.S. Supreme Court? Regardless, how will SCOTUS handle this hot potato? Will it punt too, or will its conservative majority of justices act brazenly to sanction a Trump dictatorship? Had the Second Circuit performed its judicial duty and ruled definitively, it would’ve been harder for Chief Justice John Roberts to consider such an affront to democracy. Now, he only needs to override the decision of a single federal judge.
A federal appeals panel said on Monday that President Trump’s accounting firm must turn over eight years of his personal and corporate tax returns to Manhattan prosecutors, a setback for the president’s attempt to keep his financial records private.
The three-judge appeals panel did not take a position on the president’s biggest argument — that he is immune from all criminal investigations. A lower court had called that argument “repugnant to the nation’s governmental structure and constitutional values.”
Instead, the appeals court said the president’s accounting firm, not Mr. Trump himself, was subpoenaed for the documents, so it did not matter whether presidents have immunity.
“We emphasize again the narrowness of the issue before us,” the decision read. “This appeal does not require us to consider whether the president is immune from indictment and prosecution while in office, nor to consider whether the president may lawfully be ordered to produce documents for use in a state criminal proceeding.”
In other news: