WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected former President Donald Trump's last-ditch plea to block the release of his tax records to House Democrats, paving the way for their possible disclosure to the lawmakers.
The decision by the court in a brief order noting no dissenting votes means the committee can try to access the documents before Republicans take over the House in January. The committee, however, has not said how quickly it expects to get the documents. Upon taking control, Republicans are expected to withdraw the request.
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 make his tax returns public amid scrutiny of his business affairs, turned to the justices after an appeals court in Washington refused to intervene. The court has recently rejected similar requests from Trump.
In response to the ruling, the former president lashed out that the high court in a post to his Truth Social account early Wednesday. Trump, who appointed three conservative justices to the high court, complained that it has “always ruled" against him and refused to overturn the 2020 election results.
“The Supreme Court has lost its honor, prestige, and standing, & has become nothing more than a political body, with our Country paying the price,” Trump wrote.
The former president's lawyers contested the House Ways and Means Committee’s assertion that it needed the information to probe how the IRS conducts the auditing process for presidents, saying it did not stand up to scrutiny.
House Democrats, as well as the Biden administration, urged the court to reject Trump's request, saying their demand for the tax documents reflected a valid legislative purpose.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit declined last month to reconsider a three-judge panel’s ruling in August that the Ways and Means Committee could obtain the tax returns.
Tax returns are confidential under federal law, but there are some exceptions, one of which allows the chairman of the committee to request them.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., praised the Supreme Court's "commonsense decision," which she said "upholds our Democracy, the rule of law and the Congress’ ability to execute its legislative and oversight responsibilities."
"These documents are vital to meeting the House’s Constitutional mandate: guarding the public interest, defending our national security and holding our public officials to account," Pelosi said.
"The House looks forward to promptly receiving and reviewing these documents," she said in a statement, calling 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., the panel's chairman, asked for Trump’s returns and those of related business entities. He 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 President Joe Biden, the Treasury Department said that it would comply last year, but Trump himself objected. A federal judge ruled in December that the request was lawful, prompting 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.
Neal said the court victory "rises above politics, and the Committee will now conduct the oversight that we’ve 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 their inaction unleashes. By effectively granting the majority party in either chamber of Congress nearly unlimited power to target and make public the tax returns of political enemies — political figures, private citizens, or even justices of the Supreme Court themselves —they are opening a dangerous new political battleground where no citizen is safe."
“No party in Congress should hold this dangerous power," Brady said.
In a separate case, the Trump Organization — Trump’s closely held company — is on trial over allegations 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 in the House committee’s investigation into the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol by his supporters. The committee has issued a subpoena seeking Trump’s testimony, calling for him to testify last week at the Capitol or by videoconference. He did not appear.
Although the Supreme Court has a 6-3 conservative majority, including three justices he appointed, Trump has not recently fared well in other such emergency applications, including his attempt to prevent White House documents from being handed over to the House Jan. 6 committee and his bid to avoid disclosing his financial records to prosecutors in New York. Most recently, the court last month rejected Trump’s request that a special master be allowed to review classified papers seized from his Mar-a-Lago residence in Palm Beach, Florida.