Supreme Court rejects House Democrats' plea to speed up Trump tax case

Three House committees had told the high court that their investigations into the president's finances "remain urgent."
Image: President Donald Trump speaks on the South Lawn of the White House
President Donald Trump speaks on the South Lawn of the White House on July 16, 2020.Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

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By Pete Williams

The Supreme Court on Monday said it will not speed up the process for getting President Donald Trump's legal battle with House Democrats over the president's business records back into the lower courts.

The House legal counsel had asked the court to immediately put into effect its decision this month that said while Trump did not have an absolute right to refuse to comply with legitimate congressional subpoenas for documents, Congress also did not have unlimited authority to seek materials from a president because its demands must be connected to a legitimate legislative purpose.

The ruling sent the case back to the lower courts, where the scope of the House subpoenas is likely to be narrowed.

Supreme Court decisions ordinarily do not take effect legally until 25 days after the rulings are issued, which in this case would be Aug. 3. Three House committees that sought Trump's taxes and other records told the Supreme Court that their investigations "are ongoing, remain urgent, and have been impeded by the lack of finality in these litigations, which were initiated in April 2019."

But on Monday, in a one-sentence order, the court denied the request. Justice Sonia Sotomayor said she would have granted it.

The court took the opposite course with a request from the Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, who is also seeking Trump's business records. Chief Justice John Roberts on Friday granted Vance's request to immediately issue the Supreme Court's judgment in that case. No dissents were noted from chief justice's order.

The court's brief orders do not state the reasons for its actions, but it’s likely the court was persuaded by Vance's argument that he needed to get back into court quickly because the grand jury could lose its ability to bring charges due to statutes of limitations.

The grand jury is seeking Trump's business and personal tax records for an investigation of payments made to two women who claimed they had affairs with him — allegations the president has consistently denied. Vance was said to be looking at whether the payments violated state tax or business regulations. The Supreme Court rejected the president's claim that he was absolutely immune from local criminal investigations.

Each day that compliance with subpoenas is delayed, Vance said, "increases the likelihood that the grand jury will not receive the documents it sought 10 months ago in a timely fashion," which could give the president "the absolutely immunity that this court rejected."

Federal District Court Judge Victor Marrero in New York set Aug. 14 as the deadline for all the legal briefs in the subpoena fight. Trump's lawyers said they are likely to claim that the subpoena is too broad, is motivated by a desire to harass, is meant to manipulate his policy decisions or retaliate against him for official acts, and would impede his ability to carry out his duties.