Supreme Court denies Trump request to block tax returns from Congress


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The Supreme Court on Tuesday cleared the way for a congressional committee to examine Donald Trump’s tax returns, denying without comment the former president’s last-ditch effort to extend a legal battle that has consumed Congress and the courts for years.

The justices’ brief order means that the Treasury Department may quickly hand over six years of tax records from Trump and some of his companies to the House Ways and Means Committee.

There were no recorded dissents and, as is often the case in emergency applications, the court did not state a reason for denying Trump’s request to withhold the records.

Lawmakers have said they need Trump’s tax returns from his time in office to help evaluate the effectiveness of annual presidential audits. Trump has argued that Democratic lawmakers are on a fishing expedition designed to embarrass him politically.

In May 2019, the Treasury Department refused a statutory and subpoena request for President Trump’s tax returns. Now, it’s unclear if Democrats will get them. (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post)

“It has been 1,329 days since our committee sought Donald Trump’s tax returns — almost as long as the American Civil War,” said Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-N.J.), chairman of the House Ways and Means subcommittee on oversight. “And for 1,329 days, our request made under law has been delayed, obfuscated and blocked by Donald Trump and his adjutants in the government and the courts. … The Supreme Court is right to keep its nose out of this case.”

It was unclear when the Treasury Department will turn over the documents — a spokesman said only that the department would comply — but time is not on the side of Democrats who run the committee. Demands for the records would almost surely have expired in January, when Republicans take control of the House as a result of the recent midterm elections.

House General Counsel Douglas N. Letter had told the justices that “delaying Treasury from providing the requested tax information would leave the Committee and Congress as a whole little or no time to complete their legislative work during this Congress, which is quickly approaching its end.”

Trump’s lawyers said that was all the more reason to grant the request to block the release of the records. “The Congress has only a few days left on its legislative calendar,” lawyer Cameron T. Norris said in his filing. “Though a few days is enough time to improperly expose the most sensitive documents of its chief political rival, it’s not enough time to properly study, draft, debate, or pass legislation.”

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Last month, the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit declined to review earlier rulings finding that lawmakers are entitled to the documents in the long-running legal battle. That court also refused to put the release of the papers on hold while Trump’s lawyers sought Supreme Court review.

But Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., the justice designated to hear emergency orders from that court, stopped the release Nov. 1, requesting more briefing and giving the high court more time to act.

The Supreme Court generally has been unreceptive to assertions from Trump — who is again running for president — that he should be allowed to keep records private and that he was immune to investigation while in office. The justices in 2020 upheld Congress’s right to subpoena that information as long as certain conditions were met; last year they declined to block the release of Trump’s financial records to New York state investigators.

In arguing against the release of the records, Trump’s legal team strongly questioned the committee’s premise for seeking the information.

“The Committee’s purpose in requesting President Trump’s tax returns has nothing to do with funding or staffing issues at the IRS and everything to do with releasing the President’s tax information to the public,” Trump’s filing to the Supreme Court states.

It adds: “If allowed to stand, it will undermine the separation of powers and render the office of the Presidency vulnerable to invasive information demands from political opponents in the legislative branch. Review is of the utmost importance, and the Court should preserve its ability to grant it — not just for one ‘particular President,’ but also for ‘the Presidency itself.”

The references to a “particular President” and “the Presidency itself” are from a previous Supreme Court ruling involving the president’s authority over immigration. But this litigation is unique because Trump defied modern tradition for presidential candidates and occupants of the Oval Office by refusing to make his tax returns public. Democrats began the legal battle to get them after taking the majority in the House in 2019.

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