Trump’s embarrassing defeat in the case of the “special teacher” Mar-a-Lago, Trump v. United States

Let me summarize a federal appeals court decision that disrupts a series of pro-Trump orders with a single scene from the 1995 comedy failson. Billy Madison: As the appeals court decision makes clear, everyone who reads Judge Aileen Cannon’s rulings in favor of Trump are now less intelligent for doing so.

The United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit’s decision in Trump v united states completely disrupts former President Donald Trump’s efforts to slow a criminal investigation into confidential documents that the FBI seized in Mar-a-Lago, his Florida residence. He is equally dismissive of Cannon, the Trump-appointed federal district judge in Florida, who has ordered the Justice Department to halt this criminal investigation, at least temporarily.

Notably, the appeals commission includes two other judges who, like Cannon, have been appointed by Trump. But these two Trump judges are giving Cannon no respite. Their opinion identifies more than a dozen legal errors in Cannon’s decisions, some of them quite obvious and glaring.

One of the central questions in this case, for example, is whether Trump could require the FBI to return more than 100 seized documents from his residence, all of which are marked classified because they may be his property. But, as the 11th Circuit observes, the executive order establishing the rules governing classified documents states that such documents are “owned, produced by or for, or [are] under the control of the United States government. ”

Confidential documents, by definition, are not owned by a former government official like Trump.

The result of the 11th Circuit order is that the FBI can continue its criminal investigation to see if Trump has violated federal criminal laws governing the handling of national defense information, including the Espionage Act. Trump could conceivably ask the Supreme Court to restore Cannon’s original decision, but it is unlikely to prevail there. While the 6-3 majority appointed by Court Republicans often take extraordinary measures to ensure that the conservative policies advocated by Trump during his administration remain in place, they have shown far less personal deference to Trump himself.

Last January, for example, the Supreme Court allowed the United States House Committee investigating the January 6 attack on the United States Capitol to obtain Trump White House documents against Trump’s objections. Only Judge Clarence Thomas has publicly noted his dissent.

It is quite likely, in other words, that this embarrassing chapter for Judge Cannon – and the federal judiciary – will soon end.

How did we get here

In August, the FBI executed a search warrant in Mar-a-Lago; among other things, the warrant was looking for “physical documents with classification marks” that the FBI believed Trump held at his residence.

The Constitution requires the FBI to abide by certain restrictions before it can search a private individual’s home or seize anything from it. Any law enforcement officer wishing to conduct such a search must have a probable reason to justify it and must obtain a warrant from a neutral magistrate. The FBI met both of these requirements before searching Trump’s home, where it recovered several boxes of papers, including more than 100 confidential documents.

However, Cannon ruled that Trump is entitled to additional protections that are rarely granted to any criminal suspect, largely due to Trump’s “former position as president of the United States”. He also ordered the Justice Department to stop criminal investigations of the seized documents in Mar-a-Lago until a court-appointed official known as the “special master” examines them.

Although this order allowed the Justice Department to continue a parallel investigation to assess how Trump’s possession of these documents may have harmed national security, the Justice Department warned Cannon that the two investigations “cannot be easily. separate “, largely because they are run by the same staff.

Cannon was unaffected and last week named Raymond Dearie, a senior federal judge, as that special master to review documents.

Meanwhile, the Justice Department has asked for limited relief at the 11th Circuit. The Justice Department has not yet challenged Cannon’s order to appoint the special commander or instruct him to go through the non-confidential documents seized from Trump. But he asked the appeals court for permission to continue its criminal and national security investigations into classified materials. He also called for an order that would prevent Trump’s special commander or lawyers from seeing the confidential documents.

On Wednesday evening, a panel of three 11th Circuit judges – which includes Trump appointees Britt Grant and Andrew Brasher – accepted both requests from the Department of Justice.

The 11th Circuit opinion paints Cannon as a hack, an incompetent, or both

The jury’s opinion is 29 pages long, and about half of those pages are devoted to narrating the facts of the case and summarizing what has happened so far in this litigation. The court does not actually begin its legal analysis of Cannon’s orders until page 15 of the opinion, but quickly identifies a fatal error in its reasoning.

Although there are extraordinary circumstances in which a court may need to intervene after law enforcement seizes the property under a valid warrant, explains the 11th Circuit, those extraordinary circumstances only occur when the government “has shown a callous contempt “for the constitutional rights of a suspected criminal. But Cannon admitted in his decisions that the Justice Department showed no such contempt for Trump’s rights.

Already this, according to the opinion, “is reason enough to conclude that the district court has abused its discretion” by ruling in favor of Trump.

After identifying this error, the 11th Circuit spends another 12 pages reporting more than a dozen other errors in Cannon’s reasoning. Among other things, the court notes that Trump may not have a personal interest in keeping classified government documents. He explains that “there is no evidence that any of these records have been declassified”. And he claims Cannon was wrong in ordering the Justice Department to show these documents to Trump’s special commander or lawyers.

“The Supreme Court has recognized that for reasons” too obvious to require extensive discussion, the protection of classified information must be left to the wide discretion of the responsible agency, and this must include broad discretion to determine who can have access to it. , ‘”explains the 11th Circuit, citing the Supreme Court decision in Department of the Navy v. Egan (1988).

Again, Trump could conceivably ask the Supreme Court to restore Cannon’s original order. But he just lost to a conservative jury dominated by his appointed judges. So this Supreme Court is also unlikely to side with him.

And since the most important parts of Cannon’s order have now been blocked by the 11th Circuit, the majority appointed by the Supreme Court GOP cannot simply sit on the case for months before nullifying Cannon, a tactic the judges used in past to legally leave dubious lower court orders restoring Trump-era policies in place for nearly a year.

It is likely, in other words, that the Justice Department will be allowed to continue its criminal investigation into Trump without further significant interference from Judge Cannon – or elsewhere in the judiciary.