March 15, 2017

Horse 2243 - Trump's Tax Returns And A Possible Violation Of The Ninth Amendment

By the time you have read this, MSNBC will have already published one or possibly a bunch of Donald Trump's tax returns. That thing which the media made a hullabaloo about for so long and which he'd promised to release back in November of last year, has finally happened, and you know what? I don't care.
Say what you like about everything that he's said and done, about the tone of the administration and about whether or not by not releasing them he has lied to the public: I just don't think that having access to his tax returns makes a lick of difference one way or the other.

One of the things that I don't like about having a list of rights, such as the Amendments to the US Constitution or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is that while they do a good job at listing what rights people are laying claim to, they also have the effect of limiting people's vision to only those rights. In that respect. the Ninth Amendment to the United States Constitution is the most important of all; which states that the enumeration of certain right, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people, yet seemingly almost nobody is all that much aware of its existence.
What of those rights not specifically enumerated? Things like the right to be left alone, the right to privacy or the right to quiet enjoyment of one's property, tend to get trampled in the rush of people demanding to know things. Does the public have a right to know what I earn, for instance? If they do not with regards me, then why is it different for very rich people? If previous candidates did voluntarily release their tax returns then what of it? If there was something hideous or criminal going on then the relevant authorities should have the right to investigate but I still don't see why the public needs to pry into something that they usually wouldn't care about anyway.

Let me temper the following remarks by saying that I work in an accountancy firm. As a result I have seen several tax returns which have seven and eight figure income salaries in them. As someone in a position handling confidential information, I do not have the right to publish details from people's tax returns; no matter what sort of nefarious means that they might draw their income from. Irrespective of what you feel about Donald Trump's right to privacy, the mere fact that someone at MSNBC is in possession of any of his tax returns, apparently without his permission, is a breach of confidentiality if nothing else. MSNBC might like to keep the identity of their informants a secret and I would argue that that is necessary for the proper functioning of a free press but unless Mr Trump has done something specifically criminal, then it isn't right to steal his personal information without his permission.

I don't believe that the American public do have a right to know what is contained within a future presidential candidate's tax returns. Even if there was absolutely nefarious and dastardly things contained within them, then the task of investigation should be charged with the relevant authorities such as the FBI; the task of prosecuting said evidence should lie with the courts, and neither should be the domain of the general public.

I don't for a second deny MSNBC's right to publish whatever it likes under its First Amendment right to free speech but the only reason that they even got a hold of Mr Trump's 2005 tax return is outright theft. I don't live in the United States but far across the seas in the Commonwealth of Australia and in the state of New South Wales, being unlawfully in possession of property is a crime as defined by the Crimes Act 1900.
Title 18, Part I, Chapter 113, § 2315 of the US Code does deal with the possession of stolen goods but only after the event that it has been sold. Being in unlawfully in possession of property is not enough and the value of the receipt has to exceed $5000.
Nevertheless, if we take the view that there hasn't been a leak from Mr Trump, then the only conclusion is that as some point there has been thievery going on. MSNBC can hide behind the ruling from Bartniki v Whopper (2001) that if a media outlet of itself does nothing illegal to obtain information then it is not liable even if a third party violated the law but there still is an unnamed thief somewhere.
All the while, the right to privacy and  the right to be left alone have been trampled into the dust under the boots of public impatience.

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