Trump had asked the justices to reverse a federal appeals court and allow a special master to review about 100 documents marked classified, a move that could have opened the door for his legal team to review the records and argue that they should be off limits to prosecutors in a criminal case.
But in a brief order, the court denied the request. There were no noted dissents.
For now, the documents will stay out of the reach of the special master.
The court’s decision steers the court away from the political fray at a time when approval ratings of the 6-3 conservative-leaning court have dipped to new lows and liberals, including President Joe Biden, have attacked the legitimacy of the institution. The order was issued during the hearing of the House select committee’s investigation of the January 6, 2021, US Capitol attack.
Calling the records “extraordinarily sensitive,” the Justice Department had asked the court to stay out of the dispute while legal challenges play out.
“As this Court has emphasized, courts should be cautious before ‘insisting upon an examination’ of records whose disclosure would jeopardize national security ‘even by the judge alone, in chambers,’” DOJ wrote earlier this week, citing a past case.
At issue are two orders US District Judge Aileen Cannon issued recently. She has authorized a special master to review seized materials – including those with classified markings. Earlier, Cannon temporarily enjoined the Justice Department from using the subset of documents as a part of its ongoing criminal probe.
A panel of judges on the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals, however, acting upon a request from the Justice Department, agreed to freeze portions of those orders while the legal dispute plays out.
Trump has argued that he may have had a right, as a former president, to possess certain government documents, including documents potentially containing the country’s most sensitive secrets. And he claimed that the appeals court exceeded its authority in ruling against him.
“The Eleventh Circuit lacked jurisdiction to review, much less stay, an interlocutory order of the District Court providing for the Special Master to review materials seized from President Trump’s home,” Trump told the Supreme Court last week.
Raymond Dearie, the senior US judge appointed as special master, will be “substantially impaired” by the appeals court order and that it will slow “ongoing time-sensitive work,” Trump’s team added.
“Any limit on the comprehensive and transparent review of materials seized in the extraordinary raid of a President’s home erodes public confidence in our system,” the filing said.
US Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar said Cannon, who was appointed by Trump, “fundamentally erred” in appointing a special master in the first place and noted the Justice Department is appealing that decision in the lower courts.
The DOJ, in its filing, argued that the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals found that Cannon “abused her discretion” and inflicted “a serious and unwarranted intrusion on the Executive Branch’s authority to control the use and distribution of extraordinarily sensitive government records.”
Cannon’s decision to block DOJ’s access to documents marked classified and seized from Mar-a-Lago has slowed down the DOJ’s ability to work on the case and given Trump a runway to sharpen his defenses.
DOJ said that Trump’s application to the Supreme Court “concerns an unprecedented order by the district court restricting the Executive Branch’s use of its own highly classified records in an ongoing criminal investigation and directing the dissemination of those records outside the Executive Branch for a special-master review.”
This story has been updated with additional details.