It might look as if liberals ran the tables at the Supreme Court this term. After all, there were progressive victories on abortion, gay rights and immigration. On the term’s final day, the court rejected President Trump’s sweeping claim that Congress and state prosecutors could not subpoena his financial records.
Looks, and bottom lines, can be deceiving. Progressives obtained major wins in high-profile cases. But conservatives won several equally significant victories that largely escaped public notice — and managed to accomplish changes in the law that the conservative legal movement has been seeking for years. And even when the court rejected conservative legal arguments, it ended up helping the conservative cause by defusing contentious issues in an election year. In some cases, the conservatives may have won by losing.
One case, Seila Law v. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, involved presidential power and the role of independent regulatory agencies that conservatives have long decried as the “headless fourth branch” of government. The immediate case involved the CFBP, whose director was largely insulated from being removed by the president. The court’s conservative majority, in a decision by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., said that in order for the law to pass constitutional muster, the president had to be given full authority to remove the director.