Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a rally in Robstown, Texas, U.S., October 22, 2022.
Go Nakamura | Reuters
The request to Chief Justice John Roberts asking the Supreme Court to block the committee from getting the tax returns, for now, came after Trump lost an attempt to reverse the judicial order at a federal appeals court.
“This case raises important questions about the separation of powers that will affect every future President,” Trump’s lawyers said in their emergency application.
The lawyers asked the court to act by Wednesday to delay an appeals court ruling that cleared the way for the IRS to deliver the tax returns, allowing Trump time to ask the high court to hear an appeal of the ruling. But the lawyers also said the Supreme Court could consider Monday’s filing itself a request to hear the case.
The filing accused the committee of trying to get Trump’s tax returns solely for the purpose of releasing them to the public, and not for a review of IRS audits of presidents, as the House panel has stated.
The application was directed to Roberts because the chief justice has authority for emergency petitions issued for cases, such as this one, arising out of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
If the Supreme Court grants Trump’s application, it could thwart the Democratic-controlled committee from receiving the returns for several more years — at the very least.
A Supreme Court case challenging the order could take months or longer to resolve.
And if Republicans regain majority control in the House of Representatives in the upcoming midterm elections, before the Supreme Court case is resolved, they are expected to end the Ways and Means Committee’s three-year-long bid to get Trump’s tax returns.
That committee has sought Trump’s tax records and those of related business entities as part of an investigation of how the Internal Revenue Service audits presidential tax returns. The IRS, which is a division of the Treasury Department, is legally mandated to audit the annual tax returns of sitting presidents.
The committee sued to obtain Trump’s federal returns for the years from 2015 through 2020 after then-Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin refused to comply with the committee’s request. The Trump appointee Mnuchin said that the panel did not have a legitimate legislative purpose.
Last December, Washington, D.C., federal court Judge Trevor McFadden, who was appointed by Trump, ruled that the Treasury Department had to turn over the tax returns as requested. McFadden said that even if the committee’s request was politically motivated, as Trump has argued, its chairman had stated a “valid legislative purpose” in seeking the returns, as the law required.
Trump then appealed McFadden’s ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
In August, a three-judge panel on that appeals court unanimously ruled against Trump.
The panel noted that while tax returns are generally confidential under federal law, one exception is when the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee requests such returns in writing from the Treasury Department’s secretary.
“The Chairman has identified a legitimate legislative purpose that it requires information to accomplish,” Judge David Sentelle wrote in the panel’s opinion. “At this stage, it is not our place to delve deeper than this.”
Trump then asked for a re-hearing of his appeal at the same court in a so-called en banc hearing, in which most of the court’s judges would consider his arguments.
On Thursday, a slate of 10 judges on the appeals court unanimously rejected Trump’s request. The same group of judges denied a request by Trump to stay its denial pending his expected petition to the Supreme Court.
Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, in a statement Thursday said, “The law has always been on our side. Former President Trump has tried to delay the inevitable, but once again, the Court has affirmed the strength of our position.”
“We’ve waited long enough — we must begin our oversight of the IRS’s mandatory presidential audit program as soon as possible,” Neal said.
Trump’s attorney William Consovoy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.