As part of an investigation into banking practices, including review of whether changes are necessary to laws relating to financial disclosures required of the President, Committees of the United States House of Representatives issued four subpoenas to private parties for unprivileged documents relating to the President and affiliated individuals and business entities. The President, in his capacity as a private citizen, sued to prevent the banks and other parties from complying. The case reached the Supreme Court, where a premise of the Presidents’ argument is that Congress is categorically prohibited from enacting any financial disclosure laws that would apply to the President. Public Citizen submitted an amicus brief to explain that this premise is erroneous. The enactment of laws requiring the President to provide information about his personal financial holdings may be germane to Congress’s authority to manage federal property, direct federal spending, and regulate interstate commerce. Moreover, laws aimed at ensuring that those who carry out congressionally delegated functions pursuant to those authorities do so in a manner that preserves the public trust and is free from corruption are necessary and proper. The view stated in the President’s brief is unsupported by precedent and, if adopted, would be harmful to our system of government.
On July 9, 2020, in a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court upheld Congress’s authority to issue subpoenas seeking information about a president. The Court explained, however, that in assessing whether a congressional subpoena directed at the President’s personal information is “related to, and in furtherance of, a legitimate task of the Congress,” the courts must take adequate account of the separation of powers principles at stake, including both the significant legislative interests of Congress and the unique position of the President. The Court held that the lower courts in these cases had not taken adequate account of the significant separation of powers concerns implicated by congressional subpoenas for the President’s information. It therefore vacated the judgments and remanded the cases back to the lower courts, for consideration in light of the Supreme Court’s opinion.