The Supreme Court on Tuesday cleared the way for the Internal Revenue Service to release former President Donald Trump’s tax returns to a Democratic-led House committee.
The court’s move is a major loss for Trump, who has sought to shield the release of his tax returns for years and is currently under multiple investigations.
There were no noted dissents.
Trump’s legal team has continuously sought to keep his returns secret, and turned to the Supreme Court – composed of three of his nominees – after he lost at the lower court level. Chief Justice John Roberts, who supervises the lower court that issued the order in the Trump case, had placed a temporary hold on the subpoena on November 1, presumably to give the justices more time to consider the issue.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, a Massachusetts Democrat, first sought the tax returns from the IRS in 2019, and the agency, under the Trump administration, initially resisted turning them over. The case moved slowly until 2021, when, under the Biden administration, the Justice Department changed its legal posture and concluded the IRS was obliged to comply with the committee’s request.
A Trump-appointed judge ruled in the House’s favor late last year and the US DC Circuit Court of Appeals refused to reverse that ruling, most recently with the full appeals court declining to take up the case. The court held that the request for the documents served a legitimate legislative purpose to look at tax laws as they apply to a sitting president and rejected Trump’s argument that the stated purpose was a mere pretext to hide a political calculation.
A separate legal case concerning the House Oversight Committee’s pursuit of Trump’s tax information from his then-accounting firm ended in a settlement earlier this year, after a previous trip to the Supreme Court. In bringing the new dispute with the Ways and Means committee to the Supreme Court, Trump argued that lower courts have run afoul of that 2020 case, known as Mazars.
Lawyers for Trump argued that, like the Mazars case, the current dispute “arises from a congressional demand for a President’s personal information—a clash between rival branches over records of intense political interest for all involved.”
“No Congress has ever wielded its legislative powers to demand a President’s tax returns,” Trump’s lawyers argued and warned of the “far-reaching implications” of the DC Circuit’s ruling.
Douglas Letter, a lawyer for the House, however, urged the court to reject Trump’s bid to delay the subpoena noting that the House had spent “more than three years” conducting oversight related to whether the IRS can effectively and impartially apply federal tax laws to presidents.
Letter said that Trump’s term in office “amplified” such concerns.
“Mr. Trump owned a complex web of businesses, engaged in business activities internationally, had a history of aggressive tax avoidance (as he has boasted), claimed to be under ‘continuous audit’ since before his Presidency, and repeatedly denounced IRS audits of him as ‘ unfair,’” Letter wrote.
US Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar, representing the Treasury Department and the IRS, sided with the House and pushed back on Trump’s arguments stressing that the Court of Appeals “correctly held that the Chairman’s request articulates a legitimate legislative purpose and passes muster under all suggested variations of the separation of powers analysis – including the standard this Court adopted in Trump v. Mazars.”
This story has been updated with additional details.