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Appeals court potentially saves House subpoena power in McGahn case

October 16, 2020. Summarized by summa-bot.

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 4: White House Counsel Don McGahn looks on as Judge Brett Kavanaugh appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee during his Supreme Court confirmation hearing in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill September 4, 2018 in Washington, DC. Kavanaugh was nominated by President Donald Trump to fill the vacancy on the court left by retiring Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

A federal appeals court in Washington stepped in to potentially save the subpoena power of the US House of Representatives, wiping away on Thursday a previous court ruling that made it essentially impossible for the House to force a witness's testimony without passing a new law.

(CNN)A federal appeals court in Washington stepped in to potentially save the subpoena power of the US House of Representatives, wiping away on Thursday a previous court ruling that made it essentially impossible for the House to force a witness's testimony without passing a new law.

The move by the DC Circuit Court of Appeals revived the case House Democrats are pursuing against former Trump White House counsel Don McGahn, who has avoided testifying about the President's attempts to shut down the Mueller investigation for more than a year-and-a-half.

The Justice Department has stopped McGahn from appearing under the House subpoena and instead kept the case in court through multiple appeals, arguing for the courts to stay out of the interbranch standoff.

So far in the case, the House has earned a ruling from the DC Circuit that certified its ability to go to court.

But nine judges on the appeals court will now consider other preliminary questions related to the McGahn subpoena, such as whether the House has a law it can invoke in court that allows it to sue.

The previous ruling blocking a subpoena lawsuit, which the appeals court vacated on Thursday, had put the House in a bad position to enforce a subpoena.

In its new order reviving the case, the court wrote that it seeks arguments on whether the House Judiciary Committee's subpoena of McGahn expires at the end of the 116th Congress, which will happen at the end of the year.

The DC Circuit Court won't hear arguments in the case until February.

In the past, Congress and the executive branch had largely avoided lengthy court standoffs over subpoena power.

But in the McGahn case, the House has come far enough in court to flesh out important questions about its limits.

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