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A brief biography
A hip-hop loving Indian-American judge is at the centre of a political and constitutional storm after he rejected President Trump’s request to quash a Congressional subpoena for his (Trump’s) financial records.
Federal judge Amit Mehta, who was born in Gujarat’s Patan, upheld the House Oversight Committee’s subpoena and ruled on Monday that Trump’s accounting firm, Mazars USA, must turn over his financial records to Congress. He rejected the argument of the president’s legal team that lawmakers had no legitimate power to demand the files.
Agreeing with the Democrats’ contention that they needed the records because they were examining whether ethics and disclosure laws needed to be strengthened, Mehta said in a 41-page ruling the justification was sufficient to make the subpoena valid.
“These are facially valid legislative purposes, and it is not for the court to question whether the committee’s actions are truly motivated by political considerations,” Mehta wrote. “Accordingly, the court will enter judgment in favour of the Oversight Committee.”
The decision enraged Trump, who called it a “crazy” ruling by “an Obama-appointed judge.” The pro-Trump media also got after Mehta; one headline in a conservative outlet blared, “Obama Hack Judge Rules Trump Must Deliver Private Financial Records.”
PIO judge heard sex-assault case against Strauss-Kahn
Indeed, Mehta was appointed in 2014 during President Obama’s term, just as Trump has appointed many other judges during his time in office. In fact, judgeship is political loaded in the US with Presidents nominating those who are ideologically closer to their party line.
Trump in fact canvasses openly for judicial appointments in lower courts (which are elective offices). “Megan King, who is running for Superior Court Judge in the Pennsylvania election, has my Full and Total Endorsement. She is tough on crime and fully understands all aspects of the law. Vote for Megan tomorrow (Tuesday),” the President tweeted hours after he took at shot at Mehta, who as a federal judge is nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate.
In his opinion on Monday, Mehta invoked the Senate’s Watergate investigation, arguing “history has shown that congressionally-exposed criminal conduct” by the President or other high-ranking officials could lead to legislation.
“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 maintained, specifically adding, “President Trump cannot block the subpoena to Mazars.”
Trump’s legal team appealed Mehta’s decision, and the ruling looks set to be one of several that could eventually find its way to the Supreme Court, where the President expects to find favourable ending in a court that leans conservative by virtue of two apex court appointments he lucked into.
For now though the case goes to the DC Court of Appeals where ironically, the chief judge is Merrick Garland, who was shafted by Republicans after Obama nominated him to the Supreme Court, allowing Trump to nominate a Conservative judge. Also on the Appeals Court bench are Sri Srinivasan, an Obama appointee, and Neomi Rao, a Trumpappointee.
Judge Mehta though is seen as an impartial judge in independent quarters. He previously denied an attempt by the same committee Democrats to get Trump hotel records from the General Services Administration last year, asserting that they didn’t have standing, as they were then in the minority party.
Born in Patan, Gujarat, Mehta went to school in Maryland just outside Washington DC, graduated from Georgetown University, and earned a law degree from the University of Virginia.
He worked for two prominent private law firms, and one of the more famous cases he handled involving former International Monetary Fund President Dominique Strauss-Kahn when was accused of sexual assault by Sofitel New York Hotel employee Nafissatou Diallo. All criminal charges in the case were eventually dismissed.
But one of the more intriguing nuggets about Mehta is his love of hip-hop, which came to the fore during a case involving a musician who sued a rival for copyright infringement.
“This court also does not consider itself an ordinary ‘lay person’ when it comes to hip-hop music and lyrics,” Mehta wrote in a footnote in the case. “The court has listened to hip hop for decades and considers among his favorite musical artists, perhaps a sign of his age, Jay-Z, Kanye West, Drake, and Eminem.”
Judge Mehta had previously denied an attempt by the same committee Democrats to get Trump hotel records from the General Services Administration last year, asserting that they didn’t have standing, as they were then in the minority party.