Supreme Court temporarily blocks Dem-led House committee from obtaining Trump tax records

House Democrats have launched multiple efforts over the years to obtain former President Donald Trump’s tax returns, and both a district court and circuit court of appeals have ruled favorably for one of those attempts and ordered the IRS to release subpoenaed tax records to the Democrat-led House Ways and Means Committee.

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts just intervened to block that from happening, however, as he granted an emergency appeal request from Trump and issued a temporary stay on the lower court’s orders, Fox News reported.

“Upon consideration of the application of counsel for the applicants, it is so ordered that the mandate of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, case No. 21-5289, is hereby stayed pending further order of the undersigned or of the court,” Roberts wrote and set a date of Nov. 10 for the House committee to respond to Trump’s appeal.

Democrats demand Trump’s personal and business tax records

SCOTUSblog reported Monday that the Democrat-led House Ways and Means Committee had first demanded access to then-President Trump’s personal and business tax returns and other records in 2019, but were blocked from obtaining the subpoenaed documents by the Treasury Department at that time.

That changed along with the administration in 2021, and President Joe Biden’s Treasury gave the go-ahead for the IRS to turn over the requested information to the committee, which naturally provoked a lawsuit by Trump.

Unfortunately for the former president, a district court ruled in favor of the committee last year, as did a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in August, and the entire D.C. Circuit declined to reconsider those rulings last week, which resulted in Trump’s emergency appeal to the Supreme Court.

“The law has always been on our side. Former President Trump has tried to delay the inevitable, but once again, the Court has affirmed the strength of our position,” Committee Chair Richard Neal (D-MA) said after the circuit court rejected Trump’s appeal. “We’ve waited long enough — we must begin our oversight of the IRS’s mandatory presidential audit program as soon as possible.”

Valid legislative purpose or simply public exposure?

Chairman Neal’s reference to the IRS’s presidential audit program is the committee’s attempt to justify its request for Trump’s tax records under the precedent set in 2020 by the Supreme Court’s Trump v. Mazars ruling.

That ruling had determined that certain congressional committees did have a right to obtain otherwise confidential taxpayer information via an exception to 26 U.S.C. Section 6103(f), albeit only for valid legislative purposes and not simply for the sake of public exposure.

The committee has claimed that it intends to study and legislatively reform the presidential audit program, but Trump’s 38-page filing with the Supreme Court on Monday argued that that claim was nothing more than a false “pretext” to disguise the committee’s true intent to release the former president’s confidential tax information to the general public.

The filing noted that half of Trump’s personal returns and none of his business returns that have been subpoenaed are even covered by the audit program, the committee didn’t subpoena the records of any other president or vice president, nor did they request information about the program’s funding or staffing, and numerous prior public statements from top Democrats, including Neal, made clear that public exposure of Trump’s tax records was the ultimate goal.

Chief Justice Roberts’ granted stay is only temporary while the court awaits a response from the committee and considers whether to take up Trump’s appeal or not, which will likely be decided one way or the other next week.