Court of Appeals Block Trump's Executive Privilege Claim, Rule Biden Gets Final Say

A three-judge federal appeals panel has blocked former President Donald Trump from invoking executive privilege in the investigation of the January 6 commission and granted President Joe Biden the final say in the matter.

After the court repeatedly recognized the need to "fast-track" the case during a November 30 hearing, judges handed down their ruling nine days later and upheld an earlier decision from the district court that denied Trump's request to obstruct the House panel from accessing conversations and records of his administration.

The January 6 commission has argued that the documents are necessary for a complete and thorough investigation into the attack on the Capitol earlier this year.

"Both Branches agree that there is a unique legislative need for these documents and that they are directly relevant to the Committee's inquiry into an attack on the Legislative Branch and its constitutional role in the peaceful transfer of power," the 68-page opinion read.

After the House issued a request from the National Archives for the documents, Trump formally asserted executive privilege to prevent its release, only to have the current administration inform the archives that "President Biden does not uphold the former President's assertion of privilege."

In the legal standoff that followed Trump's lawsuit, the question before the court asked judges, what happens when a sitting president and former president disagree over an executive privilege claims?

"This all boils down to who decides," Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson said last month. "Is it the current occupant of the White House or the former?"

Donald Trump January 6 Executive Privilege
Former President Donald Trump speaks to supporters during a rally at the Iowa State Fairgrounds on October 09, 2021 in Des Moines, Iowa. Scott Olson/Getty

On Thursday, Jackson, alongside Judges Patricia Millett and Robert Wilkins, decided that it is the current president that gets to determine when an assertion of executive privilege stands.

"On the record before us, former President Trump has provided no basis for this court to override President Biden's judgment and the agreement and accommodations worked out between the Political Branches over these documents," Millett wrote in the ruling.

The ruling echoed the decision by District Judge Tanya Chutkan, who denied the former president's request to block the transfer of documents.

"Presidents are not kings, and Plaintiff is not President," Chutkan wrote in her November 9 ruling.

Since the lawsuit has been filed, the National Archives—which was set to begin handing over documents last month—has revealed that the House panel's request would summon more than 1,500 pages from the Trump administration.

Trump's attorneys have already stated that they would bring the case all the way up to the Supreme Court if the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit sided with the House and rejected the former president's claim.

Trump's lawyers have argued that the Supreme Court's 1977 ruling in the case of former President Richard Nixon recognized the right of a former president to assert executive privilege.

However, when it comes to whether a former president's view or the current president's view carries a greater weight, Nixon v. GSA ruled in favor of the latter.

As Chutkan noted in her ruling: "The Supreme Court has already made clear that in such circumstances, the incumbent's view is accorded greater weight."