Much as Trump tries to obstruct Jan. 6 inquiry, SCOTUS won’t play along

No matter what Republicans in Congress assert about this being a partisan witch hunt, they cannot count on the Supreme Court to help them obstruct justice.



January 21, 2022 - 4:03 PM

The Roberts Court, April 23, 2021: seated from left, Justices Samuel A. Alito, Jr. and Clarence Thomas, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., and Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor; standing, Justices Brett M. Kavanaugh, Elena Kagan, Neil M. Gorsuch, and Amy Coney Barrett. Photo by Fred Schilling, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States

During his single presidential term, Donald Trump had a penchant for referring to federal judges and Supreme Court justices as though they ruled based on loyalty to the presidents who nominated them. Thus, Trump suggested, there were “Obama judges” and Trump judges. In 2018, Chief Justice John Roberts issued a stern rebuke: “We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges. What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them.” He added, “That independent judiciary is something we should all be thankful for.”

A lopsided high court ruling Wednesday against Trump helped dispel all notions of justices basing their decisions on personal loyalties. They dealt Trump the hardest of defeats by dismissing his mythical assertion of a post-presidential executive privilege. He had no constitutional basis to block the release of 724 pages of documents sought by the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection.

Congressional Republicans have gone to extraordinary efforts to block the Jan. 6 committee from doing its job. It’s now a matter of record that the Judicial Branch sides with congressional Democrats and the Executive Branch on the need to uncover the truth. That is: Who planned the insurrection, and to what extent was Trump’s White House involved? No matter what Trump’s cronies in Congress assert about this being a partisan witch hunt, they cannot count on the Supreme Court to help them obstruct justice.

All three Trump appointees joined the majority decision against Trump. In fact, the only dissent was from Justice Clarence Thomas, who should have recused himself from the beginning since his wife, Ginni, endorsed the pro-Trump Jan. 6 rally and tweeted her support on the day the insurrectionists invaded the Capitol.

The 724 pages in question include draft talking points for the White House press secretary and drafts of speeches prepared for Trump to deliver, along with a draft executive order concerning election integrity. Trump insisted then, and continues to insist today, that his reelection was stolen through vote fraud, as if to suggest that President Joe Biden’s backers fabricated his 7 million-vote victory margin.

Justices didn’t go into detail on their decision against Trump and, importantly, didn’t bind their ruling to the broader question of whether former presidents may constitutionally assert privilege. But they did uphold a lower-court judge’s ruling “that there is a unique legislative need for these documents and that they are directly relevant to the [Jan. 6] Committee’s inquiry into an attack on the Legislative Branch and its constitutional role in the peaceful transfer of power.”

The wheels of justice are turning, and Americans now have good reason to hope that Trump may finally be held to account for having directed a violent mob to storm the Capitol to block Biden’s election certification.