The Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected an emergency complaint from former President Trump to protect his tax returns from House Democrats, ending a multi-year lawsuit and paving the way for his tax returns to be released.
The decision, which contained no significant disagreement, was a response to an appeal Trump filed with the Supreme Court late last month after a lower court refused to reverse his verdict, in which he required his tax records to be handed over to the House Ways and Means Committee.
Chief Justice John Roberts had temporarily blocked their release in a November 1 order while the court considered the matter.
Democrats in the House of Representatives have been looking for the records for years and said they need to look into how the IRS conducts its routine presidential checks, while Trump’s lawyers argued the matter was purely political.
“The Committee’s intent to obtain President Trump’s tax returns has nothing to do with funding or staffing issues with the IRS and anything to do with the release of the president’s tax information to the public,” Trump’s lawyers wrote to the court in October.
While the Supreme Court order is a win for House Democrats, it’s unclear how useful it will be to them. It’s not clear how quickly the IRS would hand over the records, and House Republicans are expected to withdraw the motion when they take office in January.
Trump’s tax records have been kept secret since he resisted the tradition of sharing them publicly in his first presidential election in 2016, citing an audit.
Federal law requires tax returns to be generally confidential, unless an exception applies, one of which involves a written request from the House Ways and Means Committee. The question in Trump’s lawsuits depends in large part on whether this exception is constitutional.
Presidents and vice presidents have been subject to such scrutiny since 1977. The federal tax law also requires Treasury officials to file individual tax returns when they receive a written request from the Chair of the Ways and Means Committee.
The latest phase of the lawsuit took place last year when Trump asked a federal judge in DC to prevent the IRS from turning over his records, citing his privacy concerns and questioning the constitutionality of the House of Representatives motion.
US District Judge Trevor McFadden, a judge appointed by Trump, dismissed Trump’s lawsuit late last year. His verdict was later confirmed by the US Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, which in October rejected Trump’s request to hear the case again, prompting him to appeal to the Supreme Court.
Congressional investigators had celebrated the October appellate court ruling.
“The law was always on our side,” Richard Neal (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Ways and Means, said in a statement. “Former President Trump has tried to delay the inevitable, but the Court has reaffirmed the strength of our position. We’ve waited long enough—we need to start oversight of the IRS’s mandatory audit program for president as soon as possible.”
— Updated at 3:11 PM