Congress sued the Trump Administration this week in a bid to force Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to hand over six years of the President’s tax returns, escalating the battle for Trump’s financial information.
But on Wednesday, the lawsuit was assigned to a federal judge who has already sided with the Trump Administration on a clash with Congress.
That’s U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden, an October 2017 Trump appointee who issued a sweeping rejection last month of House Democrats’ attempt to block $6.1 billion in funding that Trump diverted to build a border wall without Congressional approval.
McFadden ruled that Congress did not have standing to sue and wrote that he lacked jurisdiction to preside over the dispute.
“At law too, whether a plaintiff has standing often depends on where he sits,” McFadden wrote in the June 3 ruling. “A seat in Congress comes with many prerogatives, but legal standing to superintend the execution of laws is not among them.”
Lawmakers had sued the Trump Administration in April, alleging that Trump circumvented Congress’s power of the purse after lawmakers denied his request to fund his border wall.
McFadden described the case as “about whether one chamber of Congress has the ‘constitutional means’ to conscript the Judiciary in a political turf war with the President over the implementation of legislation.”
He reached the decision in part because, in his view, lawmakers cannot “haul the executive branch into court claiming a dilution of Congress’s legislative authority.”
The border wall case, though concerning a separate issue from the tax return lawsuit, focused broadly on where congressional and executive power meet. In the tax return suit, House Democrats accuse Trump of conducting “an extraordinary attack on the authority of Congress to obtain information” by refusing to comply with the request for his tax information. The administration argued that the House had an improper motive for pursuing Trump’s tax returns, an argument House Democrats dispute in their lawsuit.
“It is not for the Executive or the Judiciary to examine the Committee’s motivations for its oversight inquiries,” lawyers for the House Ways and Means Committee wrote in the July 2 lawsuit.
In the border wall case, McFadden said that similar concerns were allayed in part because he found that Congress has other options to resolve the border funding matter, including legislation.
“And it is therefore the political tools the Constitution provides, rather than the federal courts, to which the House must turn to combat the Administration’s planned spending,” he wrote.
Yet, McFadden left room in the opinion for future showdowns between Congress and the White House.
“To be clear, the Court does not imply that Congress may never sue the Executive to protect its powers,” McFadden wrote.
House Democrats sued for Trump’s taxes on July 2, after first requesting the information on April 3 from IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig. That request was followed by a May subpoena, which was also denied. The House Ways and Means Committee tailored the initial request with future litigation in mind.
Read McFadden’s earlier ruling here: