Obama backed up the department by asserting executive privilege over those documents days before the House voted to hold Holder in contempt for not turning over the records.
Justice Department lawyers had argued that if Jackson got involved in the dispute, all document fights between Congress and the executive branch could wind up in the courts rather than being resolved through negotiation. But the judge rejected that argument.
“The Court rejects the notion that merely hearing this dispute between the branches would undermine the foundation of our government, or that it would lead to the abandonment of all negotiation and accommodation in the future, leaving the courts deluged with subpoena enforcement actions,” Jackson wrote.
The decision from Jackson, an Obama appointee, largely tracked with a ruling U.S. District Court Judge John Bates — a President George W. Bush appointee — rendered in 2008 in a similar fight over records pertaining to Bush’s dismissal of a batch of U.S. attorneys in 2006.
In the face of largely identical arguments from the Justice Department, Bates concluded he had authority to resolve a disagreement between the House Judiciary Committee and the Bush White House. The Bush administration appealed, but no decision was ever issued by the appeals court because the dispute was settled after Bush left office in 2009.