Policy Letter

Amicus Brief: Congress Needs Information to Do Its Job

(Illustration: CJ Ostrosky / POGO)

A bipartisan group of 17 former members of Congress filed an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to rule in the House of Representatives’ favor in two cases with enormous implications for congressional oversight.

Last year, three House committees issued subpoenas in an effort to acquire records regarding President Donald Trump’s finances, as well as information about some of his family members and businesses. Trump sued the companies that held the records—Deutsche Bank, Capital One, and the accounting firm Mazars—to prevent them from handing the records over to the House. The records could be useful in several ongoing investigations and oversight efforts, including evaluation of government ethics laws, money laundering and fraud regulations, and leases of government property.

The cases quickly made their way through the lower courts, which ruled in favor of the House’s power to obtain the information, and are slated for oral argument at the Supreme Court on March 31.

As the former members of Congress argue in their brief, Congress relies on its investigative power to conduct its business, from the relatively mundane to the momentous. Without the ability to obtain information, it is impossible for Congress to create informed laws, evaluate existing rules, or alert the American people to potential malfeasance by the government or others.

Historically, the courts have recognized that Congress has broad latitude to determine what information it needs to do its job. Despite this precedent, Trump’s lawsuit alleges that the House isn’t actually interested in informing legislation, and so can’t require the companies to hand over the information. But that stance is at odds with the committees’ stated reason for seeking the records and would put the courts in the position of policing how Congress does its business in a way they never have before.

The cases are Trump v. Mazars and Trump v. Deutsche Bank. The Project On Government Oversight is grateful for the invaluable work of our pro bono counsel, Andre Mura.