The justices' order does not affect an ongoing court battle over House Democrats’ quest for access to grand jury materials from special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. The Mueller grand jury fight turns on the House's argument that it is entitled to the records as part of President Donald Trump's impeachment inquiry, which it contends is a judicial proceeding. Rules that govern the federal courts specifically allow disclosure for a judicial proceeding.
The issue in the case that the justices rejected is whether federal judges have authority on their own to make exceptions to grand jury secrecy in some instances, including when a case is of great historical interest.
That's the situation in the case of Stuart McKeever, who has spent 40 years investigating the disappearance of a critic of the longtime Dominican Republic dictator Rafael Trujillo. McKeever is seeking records of a Washington, D.C., grand jury that investigated Jesus de Galindez's disappearance in the late 1950s.
A federal judge sided with McKeever, but a panel of the federal appeals court in Washington divided 2-1 in ruling that judges have no authority, outside of specific exceptions, to release grand jury records. Appeals courts in New York, Chicago and Atlanta have ruled that judges do have the power to order disclosure.