Presidents understand the power of this court, and President Donald Trump may come to understand that more than most.
The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit — known as the DC Circuit and dubbed the country’s “second highest court” — handles a distinctive caseload testing the power of federal regulators and the executive branch.
The DC Circuit’s portfolio has long put it at the center of disputes over potential White House wrongdoing, such as during Watergate in the Nixon years, the Iran-Contra scandal of the Reagan administration and Independent Counsel Ken Starr’s investigation of President Bill Clinton.
Now, it could help determine the fate of legal issues surrounding the House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry and Trump’s desire to withhold personal information and limit his allies from cooperating with investigators.
Along with challenges arising from that Trump administration focus, the DC Circuit is positioned to take up more cases involving the House efforts to obtain Trump documents.
“They view themselves as legal technicians. Their view is that they do not make policy, they apply the law,” said University of Michigan law professor Nicholas Bagley. “But the nature of the fights that are brought to the DC Circuit are often those that get the partisan blood boiling.”
Two of the three judges who ruled against Trump were appointed by Democrats. The third, Judge Neomi Rao, a Trump appointee, wrote a strong dissent siding with the President.
“The law is on Congress’ side,” said Bagley, who was a law clerk on the DC Circuit and the Supreme Court and now specializes in administrative law, “But to the extent that politics matters here, and it probably matters at the margins, there are more Democratic appointees on this court.”