Judge Amit Mehta, who has been serving on the United States District Court for the District of Columbia since late 2014, has ruled that the House Oversight Committee has the right to see several years of President Trump’s tax returns.
The Oversight Committee, chaired by Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, issued a subpoena to the accounting firm Mazars in April demanding access to the president’s financial records. President Trump sued to block Mazars from responding to the subpoena. Judge Mehta issued a ruling on May 20, 2019, ordering Mazars to comply with the subpoena. In the opinion, Judge Mehta wrote in part, “It is simply not fathomable that a Constitution that grants Congress the power to remove a President for reasons including criminal behavior would deny Congress the power to investigate him for unlawful conduct — past or present — even without formally opening an impeachment inquiry.” He specifically added that “President Trump cannot block the subpoena to Mazars.” The president told reporters at the White House that he would appeal the ruling. You can read Judge Mehta’s full opinion embedded below.
The decision comes less than two weeks after Judge Mehta announced that he was fast-tracking the case. During oral arguments on May 14, Judge Mehta strongly challenged the president’s legal team’s position on congressional oversight. According to the National Law Journal, Mehta even asked Trump attorney William Consovoy “whether he believed congressional investigations related to Whitewater and Watergate were valid.” Consovoy reportedly answered that he needed to more closely examine those examples.
Here’s what you need to know about Judge Amit Mehta.
1. Amit Mehta Was Nominated for the Federal Bench By President Obama & Confirmed By the Senate Via Voice Vote
President Obama named Amit Mehta as his nominee for the District of Columbia court on July 31, 2014. After hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Mehta was confirmed by the full Senate on December 16, 2014 in a voice vote, and assumed the position on December 19.
In written questioning from the Judiciary Committee, Mehta stated that the most important attribute a judge should possess is the ability to be impartial, regardless of personal views. He added, “Political ideology or motivation has no place in the decision making of a judge.”
Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa asked Mehta, “Under what circumstances do you believe it appropriate for a federal court to declare a statute enacted by Congress unconstitutional?” Mehta responded:
“The Supreme Court has stated that Acts of Congress are due a ‘strong presumption’ of constitutionality, see United States v. Watson, 423 U.S. 411, 416 (1976); therefore, a court should declare a statute enacted by Congress unconstitutional in only limited circumstances. Such limited circumstances might include when a statute clearly violates a constitutional provision or when Congress has exceeded its authority granted under Article I of the Constitution. A district court judge should declare a statute unconstitutional only when that result is compelled by binding Supreme Court and circuit court precedent, and only when doing so is required to resolve a case or controversy presented.”
Mehta also reiterated that as a judge, he would rely heavily on precedent to decide challenging cases. He explained:
“A district court judge’s fealty to applying binding precedent is essential to the proper functioning of the judiciary and to instilling public trust in the judiciary. If confirmed, I will faithfully follow binding Supreme Court and D.C. Circuit precedent to the cases that come before me, irrespective of whether I personally agree or disagree with the precedent.”
2. Mehta Previously Worked as a Criminal Defense Attorney & Represented French Politician Dominique Strauss-Kahn on Sexual Assault Allegations in New York
Judge Amit Mehta previously worked at the Washington D.C.-based law firm Zuckerman Spaeder, first from 1999 through 2002 and then again from 2007 until he was appointed to the federal bench. Mehta’s bio on the District of Columbia website states that his practice “focused on white-collar criminal defense, complex business disputes, and appellate advocacy.” He became a partner at the firm in 2010, according to a Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire.
One of the highest-profile cases Mehta took on was that of politician Dominique Strauss-Kahn of France, who was serving as the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund at the time. In 2011, he was accused of sexual assault by Sofitel New York Hotel employee Nafissatou Diallo. All criminal charges were eventually dismissed due to inconsistencies in Diallo’s story, according to prosecutors. You can read the prosecutors filing here.
After the criminal charges were dismissed, the case continued in civil court. Mehta and the rest of Strauss-Kahn’s defense team negotiated a financial settlement with Diallo. A French newspaper reported that Strauss-Kahn had agreed to pay $6 million to settle the case. But Mehta and the defense team stated that the report was false and did not confirm the final amount.
3. Judge Mehta is a Fan of Hip-Hop Music & Wrote About His Familiarity With the Genre in a 2015 Court Opinion
Judge Amit Mehta loves to listen to hip-hop music. His favorite artists include Jay-Z, Kanye West, Drake, and Eminem. We know this because he listed the musicians in the footnotes of a 2015 court opinion.
Mehta oversaw a case involving musician Robert Prunty. Prunty sued several entertainment companies including Vivendi SA, UMG Recordings, Inc, Atlantic Recording Corp, The Island Def Jam Music Group, and Warner Music Group Corp. He accused them of copyright infringement. As explained in the court filing embedded above, Prunty argued that the defendants reproduced his song “Keys to the Kingdom” and republished it as “Kingdom,” which was performed by the musician Common.
Judge Mehta dismissed the case and wrote in his opinion, “The court has reviewed the lyrics of both songs and concludes that, other than the word ‘Kingdom’ appearing in both songs’ titles and the phrase ‘keys to the kingdom’ appearing in both songs’ lyrics, they bear little resemblance to one another and thus are not ‘substantially similar.'” In the footnote at the bottom of the court opinion, Mehta clarified why he considered himself particularly qualified to rule on the case and pick out differences between the songs. The footnote reads in full, “This court also does not consider itself an ordinary ‘lay person’ when it comes to hip-hop music and lyrics. The court has listened to hip hop for decades and considers among his favorite musical artists, perhaps as a sign of his age, Jay-Z, Kanye West, Drake, and Eminem.”
4. Amit Mehta Was Named On the National Law Journal’s ‘Minority 40 Under 40’ List in 2011
Amit Mehta received positive attention as a young lawyer. The National Law Journal included Mehta on its 2011 “Minority 40 Under 40” list.
Mehta was recognized as a “Future Star” by Benchmark Litigation in 2011 and 2012. His law firm of Zuckerman Spaeder shared a list of several of the firm’s attorneys that received similar honors. According to a Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire, Mehta was also listed by the Economic Times as one of its ” 7 Prominent Legal Eagles of Indian Origin in the U.S.”
5. Amit Mehta Was Born in India & Earned His Law Degree From the University of Virginia
Amit Mehta was born in Patan, India, in 1971. After briefly attending James Madison University, he transferred to Georgetown University and earned his bachelor’s degree in 1993. Mehta went on to the University of Virginia School of Law, earning his law degree in 1997.
According to his District of Columbia bio, Mehta is married with two children.