The Supreme Court will meet behind closed doors on Friday to discuss whether to add cases to the court’s docket next term, including one petition brought by a mystery company related to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
If the court denies the case, it will represent the last stop for a company that has been fighting a subpoena issued last year by a federal grand jury in Washington, DC.
For months now, the case has been one of the most closely watched and guarded secrets among Mueller’s work. The company, that calls itself a wholly owned agency of an unnamed foreign state, fought the subpoena arguing it was immune under a federal law called the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act that limits such prosecutorial action.
It also said that complying with the request for documents would violate the country’s own laws.
The case was so secret that at one point court security took the almost unprecedented step of clearing an entire floor of a courthouse in Washington to keep secret the identities of the lawyers arguing the case.
Court filings initially blacked out the names of the lawyers representing the company and that the special counsel’s office was involved, but both are now publicly known.
A lower court ruled against the company holding that the request fell within the so called “commercial activities” exception in the law, and the court imposed a $50,000 per day sanction until the company complied. Those fines began accruing more than two months ago, on January 15. The ruling was affirmed by the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
That court held that if the company’s view were to prevail, “a foreign-sovereign-owned, purely commercial enterprise operating within the United States could flagrantly violate criminal laws and the US government would be powerless to respond save through diplomatic pressure.”
In January, in an emergency petition, the company asked the Supreme Court to freeze the sanctions while the company prepared its appeal, but the justices, with no noted dissents, declined to do so.
In briefs filed with the Supreme Court, Brian D. Boone and Edward T. Kang, Alston & Bird lawyers, who were finally revealed as the company’s lawyers, told the justices if the lower court opinion were not reversed, the judgment would “create chaos in the international community – possibly alienating American allies, undermining diplomacy, and all but guaranteeing that American agencies and instrumentalities will (despite their protestations) face criminal proceedings abroad.”
Solicitor General Noel Francisco, countered however, that the Supreme Court should allow the lower court opinions to stand because there was no “pressing need for this Court to intervene in the absence of a conflict.”