Since 2019, the Democrat-led House Ways and Means Committee has sought to get its hands on former President Donald Trump’s tax records, and both a district court and the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the committee obtaining those records from the IRS.
Trump filed an emergency appeal with the Supreme Court on Monday to block that from happening, and just one day later, Chief Justice John Roberts seemingly granted that request by issuing a temporary stay against the lower courts’ orders, The Western Journal reported.
The decision from Roberts doesn’t address the merits of the case, but it does maintain the status quo — and confidentiality of Trump’s personal and business tax records — until at least Nov. 10, at which the Supreme Court will decide whether or not to take up and fully consider this particular appeal.
John Roberts has granted a temporary “administrative” stay in Trump’s bid to stop a House committee from obtaining his tax returns. This is not a ruling on the merits of Trump’s request; it merely keeps the lower-court ruling on hold while SCOTUS considers the request. https://t.co/7WrSBrZlFh pic.twitter.com/CVweLTl9S0
— SCOTUSblog (@SCOTUSblog) November 1, 2022
Limited statutory exception to confidentiality of tax records
At the heart of this dispute, according to SCOTUSblog, is the Democrat-led committee’s demand for the IRS to turn over several years’ worth of tax returns and other records related to former President Trump and several of his businesses.
The committee has cited federal statute 26 U.S.C. Sec. 6103(f) as providing an exception for certain congressional committees to obtain otherwise confidential taxpayer records and information that are not to be disclosed.
However, as the Supreme Court itself established in 2020 with its Trump v. Mazars ruling, that statutory exception to the prohibition against disclosure is only narrowly applicable if the committee needs the taxpayer records and information for a legitimate legislative purpose, and not simply for the sake of public exposure of said records.
Legislative purpose vs. public disclosure
To be sure, the Democrat-led committee has claimed a valid legislative purpose that necessitates the disclosure to them of former President Trump’s tax records, which is purportedly to study and consider potential reforms to a specific IRS program regarding the auditing of a sitting president’s tax returns.
However, in the 38-page emergency filing from Trump’s attorneys, the argument is made that the committee’s stated claim is merely a false pretext to hide the committee’s real purpose for obtaining the former president’s records, which is nothing more than to release them publicly.
The filing documented how Democrats since 2016, including Ways and Means Committee Chair Richard Neal (D-MA), have repeatedly called for Trump’s tax returns to be publicly released.
As for the purported claim of studying the presidential audit program, the filing noted that half of the demanded personal returns and none of the business records are covered under that program, no additional information about funding, processes, or staff for the program was requested, and the committee has only sought the records of one individual, Trump, but none from any of the other former presidents and vice presidents who were subject to the decades-old program.
The committee quite clearly intends to publicly release Trump’s tax records if obtained, but this move from Chief Justice Roberts will at the very least delay that until after the election, if not forestall it forever by allowing the clock to run out on the current Congress, albeit with the presumption that a newly elected Republican majority will drop and no longer pursue this issue.