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Federal appeals court says Congress can sue to enforce subpoenas

Federal appeals court says Congress can sue to enforce subpoenas
A name card for former White House counsel Don McGahn is seen on the witness table during a House judiciary committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on May 21, 2019. McGahn ignored a subpoena and did not show up to the hearing, at the direction of President Donald Trump. File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

Aug. 7 (UPI) -- A federal appellate court ruled Friday that congressional Democrats have the right to enforce subpoenas in court, affirming an order for former White House counsel Don McGahn to testify about White House positions on Russia and immigration.

A three-judge panel of the Washington, D.C., Circuit Court initially ruled that congressional subpoenas are essentially unenforceable. The full court, however, issued a ruling Friday that said Congress can't carry out its constitutional oversight duties without access to relevant information.

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The court ruled 7-2 in favor of the subpoenas.

"The committee, acting on behalf of the full House of Representatives, has shown that it suffers a concrete and particularized injury when denied the opportunity to obtain information necessary to the legislative, oversight, and impeachment functions of the House, and that its injury would be redressed by the order it seeks from the court," Judge Judith Rogers wrote for the majority.

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The House judiciary committee sought McGahn's testimony on two subjects -- Trump's actions during special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation and his decision to reallocate military funds to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Trump argued that he and his advisers, like McGahn, had "absolute immunity" and were under no legal obligation to obey the subpoenas. The administration is almost certain to appeal, meaning the case may ultimately end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.

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Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson was one of two on the panel who dissented. She argued it's not the judiciary's role to resolve political disputes, except as a last resort. She said Congress has other avenues, like appropriations, to pressure the executive branch to comply with subpoenas.

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The majority contended, however, that there has been a long historical practice of cooperation in such matters.

Rogers acknowledged that while it's true courts don't often intervene in political stalemates, the reason is because disputes like the kind involving Congress and the president have been rare.

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