WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump has relentlessly pushed to build a border wall and tighten immigration restrictions. He’s also fought efforts to acquire his tax returns.
On Friday, five federal courts rejected arguments by Trump and his administration on all three fronts.
It was a shocking day, as the President lost on both the personal front — keeping his tax returns from congressional Democrats who might use them in their impeachment inquiry — and on immigration, the policy area at the center of his agenda.
Here’s a brief breakdown of the five rulings — and one dissent:
Tax returns — DC Circuit Court of Appeals
In a 2-1 ruling, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected Trump’s attempt to stop his accounting firm, Mazars USA, from turning over eight years of financial records to House Democrats.
It’s a major loss in the President’s efforts to refuse to cooperate with the impeachment probe. Trump and other Republicans argue the full House must vote to authorize the inquiry, but the court disagreed, writing that it has “no authority” to require the House to take a full vote in support of a subpoena to investigate the President, citing the Constitution.
The next stop could be the Supreme Court.
Border wall — Western District of Texas
Judge David Briones said Trump’s national emergency declaration to build a border wall is unlawful, and appears poised to block the use of those funds.
El Paso County, Texas, and the Border Network for Human Rights say Trump overstepped his authority when he issued the declaration to gain access to additional funds for his border wall, despite receiving $1.375 billion from Congress.
The ruling is limited, however, in that it applies only to the military construction funds that have been diverted for wall construction, not to other sources such as counterdrug funding and Treasury Forfeiture Funds.
Briones has requested that the plaintiffs propose the scope of a preliminary injunction.
Immigration green card regulations — Southern District of New York
Three federal judges blocked efforts to make it more difficult for immigrants who rely on public assistance to obtain legal status — the so-called “public charge” rule.
The first ruling came from US District Judge George B. Daniels, who called it “repugnant to the American Dream.”
“The rule is simply a new agency policy of exclusion in search of a justification,” Daniels wrote.
Under the proposed rule, many green card and visa applicants could be turned down if they have low incomes or limited education because they’d be deemed more likely to need government assistance in the future, including most forms of Medicaid, food stamps and housing vouchers.
Immigration green card regulations — Eastern District of Washington
In Spokane, Washington, Judge Rosanna Malouf Peterson was also unimpressed with the rule from the Department of Homeland Security.
“There are serious questions going to the merits regarding whether DHS has acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner in formulating the Public Charge Rule,” Peterson wrote.
She suggested the department’s proposal was based in an “unmooring from its Congressionally delegated authority.”
Peterson also said states would see “a wide variety of predictable harms” to the health care system and the health of residents.
“The harms to children, including U.S. citizen children, from reduced access to medical care, food assistance, and housing support … will compound over time,” she wrote.
Immigration green card regulations — Northern District of California
Not to be outdone, Judge Phyllis J. Hamilton invoked Emma Lazarus’ iconic poem on the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal in her ruling blocking the Public Charge rule.
It was a response to acting US Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Ken Cuccinelli, who tweaked the famous poem — whose words, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” have long been associated with immigration to the US and the nation’s history as a haven — as part of his defense of the regulation in August.
Cuccinelli had said: “Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge.”
Hamilton printed the poem in full, and added an admonishment, saying that “whether one would prefer to see America’s borders opened wide and welcoming, or closed because the nation is full, laws — not poetry — govern who may enter.”
And a friendly judge in DC
One bright spot for Trump came back in Washington, where Judge Neomi Rao dissented in the tax records case, blasting House Democrats in no uncertain terms as operating a personal inquiry against the President under the guise of legislative oversight.
“Allegations of illegal conduct against the President cannot be investigated by Congress except through impeachment,” she wrote.
The 68-page dissent pressed on the separation of powers and rejected the majority’s conclusion that the subpoena is a valid exercise of legislative power, saying that Congress’ power to “investigate for legislative purposes” is “broad” but not “unlimited.”
“Allowing the Committee to issue this subpoena for legislative purposes would turn Congress into a roving inquisition over a co-equal branch of government,” Rao wrote.
Rao was appointed to the bench by President Donald Trump this year and took the former seat of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. She is a former clerk to Justice Clarence Thomas and like him looks to the original meaning of the Constitution when analyzing cases.