Well, that was something of a surprise. Donald Trump has now lost both cases that were before the Supreme Court and with the court divided, remarkably given how Trump was supposed to have stacked it in his favour, 7 votes against 2. I wrote about this a few months ago when the best legal minds assumed that he would lose the case against the District of Manhattan but stood a good chance of winning the one against Congress. Two losses (though the second is so nuanced it’s almost a win) means this is pretty bleak for Trump. I guess that’s why we’re witnessing a meltdown on Twitter where Trump is foaming at the mouth about Obama the crime lord and Biden his henchman.
Yet it’s also fun watching the US news networks. They often get these things so wrong in their first spasms of reply. I remember screaming at MSNBC when the midterm results came through. They said there wasn’t a “blue wave” when it was quite clear that it was. In fact, not only a blue wave but a HUGE blue wave, which just happened to break very slowly. I also remember having a similar fit when CNN declared that the Mueller Report had cleared Trump, based on the evidence of Barr’s letter, when anybody who’d been following the case could see that it had merely refused to clear him, which was (and still is) a very different thing.
I was thinking the same last night as they had a history professor in one of the studios and he reminded everybody how Churchill has ridden the tube during the war to show solidarity with the people of Britain. He probably didn’t. Gary Oldman did.
It’s useful to remember that pundits are often wrong in the early moments of a breaking story and so it’s proving now as both CNN and MSNBC have been reporting that this was a good day for Trump. Certainly, it doesn’t mean we get to see Trump’s tax returns now or even tonight, but it does mean that the deadlock in the lower courts has now been broken. And that’s all that this was really about. SCOTUS doesn’t get into the weeds of any trial. They render the big decisions of law, which in this case was deciding if a sitting president had immunity from legal proceedings. “It would distract him too much from the important business of State” was the defence offered by Trump’s legal team, which is ironic, of course, given that Trump is probably by any measure the laziest president to ever sit in the Oval Office.
So, what’s next? Probably some delay, especially around Congress where there’ll be more fights about what bits of Trump’s finances they’ll be allowed to see. The ruling has set certain limits on how they go about that. The Supreme Court has fairly ruled out the idea of spearfishing; looking at everything to find a crime. It just means the House has to be more precise in their prosecution. They’ll need to specify why they need to see Trump’s records, which, again, always seemed to be the fair outcome.
Probably overlooked in all of this are the bits we can’t yet see. Trump’s immunity defence has been cited everywhere where people have looked to prosecute Trump. This feels more like the end of a movie when the alien mothership’s shields have come down. From somewhere there could yet come Randy Quaid flying a crop duster loaded up with high explosives… I might be getting my Independence Day lore wrong there but my point stands. Even if Trump finds breathing room, the fact that he’s under investigation will feed into the politics of the next few months. It should proving interesting.