Former President Donald Trump asked the Supreme Court on Monday to block the disclosure of his federal income tax returns to a congressional committee.
Without the court’s intervention, the House Committee on Ways and Means is poised to obtain six years of tax returns for Trump and the companies he owns. Trump’s legal team told the justices that allowing the committee to get those records would undermine the separation of powers and violate a Supreme Court ruling in a prior case involving a different congressional attempt to obtain Trump’s tax records.
The battle began in 2019, when the Ways and Means committee, led by Democrats, asked the IRS for tax returns associated with Trump and his businesses. A federal law, 26 U.S.C. § 6103(f), allows the committee to obtain “any return or return information” from the IRS, including tax returns for individual taxpayers.
When the Department of the Treasury under the Trump administration declined to turn over the returns, the committee sued. Before U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden ruled on the committee’s request, President Joe Biden was elected and took office in January 2021. That prompted the committee to renew its request, this time with more information about why it wanted the returns – specifically, as part of its consideration of legislation on how federal tax laws apply to a sitting president. This time, the Treasury Department said it would turn over the documents, leading the committee to seek to dismiss its lawsuit.
Trump, who had intervened in the lawsuit, then filed his own claims, seeking to block the disclosure of his tax returns to the committee. McFadden, a Trump appointee, ruled against Trump, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld that ruling. In an opinion by a three-judge panel that included two Republican appointees, the court ruled in August that the committee stated a valid legislative purpose for its request and has a right to obtain the documents. The panel rejected Trump’s argument that the committee’s real motive was to expose Trump’s finances and gather evidence to use against Trump in a criminal case.
“The mere fact that individual members of Congress may have political motives as well as legislative ones is of no moment,” Judge David Sentelle wrote for the panel.
Last week, the full D.C. Circuit declined to reconsider the case, prompting Trump to come to the Supreme Court. In his emergency request, he argued that the committee’s stated legislative goals are merely a pretext. Comments from top Democrats like the committee’s chairman, Richard Neal, D-Mass., “evince quite a different purpose: exposing President Trump’s tax information to the public for the sake of exposure,” Trump’s legal team wrote.
Allowing the committee to obtain the information would violate the Supreme Court’s 2020 decision in Trump v. Mazars, a case involving separate requests from congressional committees seeking Trump’s financial records. In Mazars, the court held that such requests must be backed by a valid legislative purpose, and it sent the dispute back to the lower courts. Trump’s former accounting firm recently began turning over to Congress some of the documents at issue in that litigation.
This post is also published on SCOTUSblog.