WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected former President Donald Trump’s last-minute request to block the release of his tax records to House Democrats, paving the way for their possible release to lawmakers.
The court’s decision in a brief no-no-opt order means the committee can try to access the documents before Republicans take control of the House in January. However, the committee has not said how quickly it expects to obtain the documents. Upon taking control, the Republicans are expected to withdraw the application.
Earlier this month, Chief Justice John Roberts temporarily blocked the ways and means panel from accessing Trump’s tax records while the court decided how to act on Trump’s request.
Trump, who, unlike other recent presidents, refused to release his tax returns amid scrutiny over his business affairs, turned to the judges after a Washington appeals court refused to intervene. The court recently rejected similar requests from Trump.
Lawyers for the former president challenged the House Ways and Means Committee’s assertion that it needed the information to investigate how the IRS conducts the process of auditing presidents, saying it did not hold up to scrutiny.
House Democrats, as well as the Biden administration, urged the court to deny Trump’s request, saying his demand for the tax documents reflected a valid legislative purpose.
The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit refused last month to reconsider a three-judge panel’s decision in August that the Committee of Ways and Means could obtain the tax returns.
Tax returns are confidential under federal law, but there are a few exceptions, one of which allows the committee chair to request them.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., praised the Supreme Court’s «common sense decision,» which she said «upholds our democracy, the rule of law, and the ability of Congress to carry out its legislative responsibilities.» and supervision».
“These documents are vital to fulfilling the House’s constitutional mandate: to protect the public interest, defend our national security, and hold our public officials accountable,” Pelosi said.
«The Chamber looks forward to promptly receiving and reviewing these documents,» he said in a statementcalling on Congress to «enact legislation requiring presidents and candidates for president to disclose their tax returns.»
The legal battle began in April 2019, when Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., chair of the panel, requested statements from Trump and related business entities. He said he sought the information as part of the committee’s investigations into whether to amend the tax law relating to presidents.
The Treasury Department, then under Trump’s control, refused to comply, saying Neal served no valid purpose, prompting the committee to sue.
Following the election of President Joe Biden, the Treasury Department said it would comply last year, but Trump himself opposed it. A federal judge ruled in December that the request was legal, prompting Trump to appeal.
Among other things, Trump claims not only that the request is invalid, but also that the statute is unconstitutional because it is too broad and that the Biden administration’s decision to release the materials was an unconstitutional form of retaliation that violates the rights of Trump’s First Amendment.
Democrats have been calling on Trump to release his tax returns since the 2016 presidential campaign. While no law requires presidential candidates to release their tax returns, doing so has become the norm for both Democrats and Republicans.
Neal said the court’s victory «rises above politics, and the Committee will now carry out the oversight that we have sought for the last three and a half years.»
The committee’s top Republican, Kevin Brady of Texas, said the high court «has no idea what triggers its inaction. By effectively giving the majority party in either house of Congress nearly unlimited power to identify and make public the tax returns from political enemies, figures, private citizens, or even Supreme Court justices themselves, are opening up a dangerous new political battlefield where no citizen is safe.»
«No party in Congress should have this dangerous power,» Brady said.
In a separate case, the Trump Organization, Trump’s closely held company, is on trial over allegations that it was involved in a 15-year scheme to compensate top executives «off the books» to help them evade taxes.
Trump faces other legal battles, including the House committee’s investigation into the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol by his supporters. The committee issued a subpoena requesting testimony from Trump, asking him to testify last week on Capitol Hill or by video conference. He didn’t show up.
Although the Supreme Court has a 6-3 conservative majority, including three justices he appointed, Trump has not fared well recently in other such emergency applications, including his attempt to prevent White House documents from being hand over to the House committee on January 6 and their attempt to prevent the disclosure of their financial records to New York prosecutors. Most recently, the court last month denied Trump’s request to allow a special master to review classified documents seized from his Mar-a-Lago residence in Palm Beach, Florida.