Chief Justice John Roberts on Tuesday temporarily blocked a congressional committee from accessing former President Donald Trump’s tax records.
Trump, unlike other recent presidents, has refused to make his tax returns public amid scrutiny of his business affairs, and turned to the justices after an appeals court in Washington refused to intervene on the release of the records. The high court has recently rejected similar requests made by Trump.
Trump’s lawyers say the House Ways and Means Committee’s assertion that it needs the information to probe how the IRS conducts the auditing process for presidents does not stand up to scrutiny.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit declined Thursday to reconsider a three-judge panel’s ruling in August that the committee could obtain the tax returns.
Without Supreme Court intervention, the appeals court ruling was due to go into effect Thursday. In the brief order, Roberts said the case would remain on hold until the court acts and asked the committee to file a response to Trump's request by Nov. 10.
"The Ways and Means Committee maintains the law is on our side, and will file a timely response as requested," committee spokesperson Dylan Peachey said. "Chairman Neal looks forward to the Supreme Court’s expeditious consideration."
Tax returns are confidential under federal law, but there are some exceptions, one of which allows the chairman of the committee to request them.
The legal battle began in April 2019, when Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., the chairman of the committee, asked for Trump’s returns and those of related business entities. Neal said he sought the information as part of the committee’s inquiries into whether tax law concerning presidents should be amended.
The Treasury Department, then under Trump’s control, refused to comply, saying Neal did not have a valid purpose, prompting the committee to sue.
Following the election of Joe Biden, the Treasury Department said it would comply last year, but Trump himself objected. A federal judge ruled in December that the request was lawful, causing Trump to appeal.
Among other things, Trump claims not just that the request is invalid, but also that the statute is unconstitutional because it is overly broad, and that the Biden administration’s decision to disclose the materials was an unconstitutional form of retaliation that violates Trump’s First Amendment rights.
Democrats have been calling for Trump to release his tax returns ever since the 2016 presidential campaign. While no law requires presidential candidates to release their tax returns, it has become the norm for both Democrats and Republicans to do so.