Chief Justice Roberts temporarily delays release of Trump tax records


Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. on Tuesday temporarily halted the release of former president Donald Trump’s tax records to a congressional committee and called for more briefing in the case.

Without the Supreme Court’s intervention, the Treasury Department could have handed over the documents to the House Ways and Means Committee as early as Thursday.

Roberts’s action seems intended to give the full court more time to consider the issue. But time is not on the side of the Democrats who run the committee. If the party loses control in next week’s midterm elections, as polling suggests, demand for the records surely will expire in January, when the new Congress is sworn in and control of the committee would change hands.

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Last week, the full US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit declined to review earlier rulings finding that lawmakers are entitled to the documents in the long-running legal battle. The court also refused to put the release of the papers on hold while Trump’s lawyers sought Supreme Court review.

Roberts, the justice designated to hear emergency orders from that court, put the release on hold and called for a response from the committee by noon on Nov. 10. A committee spokeswoman said in a statement, “The Ways and Means Committee maintains the law is on our side, and will file a timely response as requested.” Its chairman, Rep. Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.), “looks forward to the Supreme Court’s expeditious consideration.”

Temporary holds such as the one issued by Roberts do not always stick. For instance, Justice Clarence Thomas last week issued a stay on rulings from lower courts that Trump ally Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (RS.C.) testified before a Georgia grand jury investigating efforts by Trump allies to contest the 2020 election.

But on Tuesday, the full court dissolved that order and cleared the way for the testimony with no noted dissents, not even from Thomas.

Supreme Court clears way for Sen. Graham to testify in Ga. election test

Trump’s lawyer Cameron Norris told the court that if it did not put at least a temporary hold on the documents’ release, it would have no time to even consider Trump’s argument.

“The Committee has no pressing need for Applicants’ information so it can study generic legislation about funding and regulating future IRS audits of future Presidents,” Norris wrote, saying that the records would almost surely be released to the public, causing Trump “irreparable harm” .”

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The Supreme Court generally has not been receptive to Trump’s assertions that he should be allowed to keep records private and that he was immune to investigation while in office. The justices in 2020 upheld Congress’s right to subpoena that information with some limitations, and last year they declined to block the release of Trump’s financial records for a New York state investigation.

Lawmakers have said they need Trump’s tax returns from his time in office to help evaluate the effectiveness of annual presidential audits. Trump has argued that Democratic lawmakers are on a fishing expedition designed to embarrass him politically.

“The Committee’s purpose in requesting President Trump’s tax returns has nothing to do with funding or staffing issues at the IRS and everything to do with releasing the President’s tax information to the public,” Trump’s filing to the Supreme Court states.

It adds: “If allowed to stand, it will undermine the separation of powers and render the office of the Presidency vulnerable to invasive information demands from political opponents in the legislative branch. Review is of the utmost importance, and the Court should preserve its ability to grant it — not just for one ‘particular President,’ but also for ‘the Presidency itself.’” The reference is to a previous Supreme Court ruling.

The litigation is unique because Trump defended modern tradition for presidential candidates and occupants of the Oval Office by refusing to make his tax returns public. Democrats began the legal battle to get them after taking over the House in 2019.

Although the case has taken years to move through the courts, federal judges have consistently ruled that lawmakers established the “valid legislative purpose” required for disclosure.

The appellate court said Trump’s status as a former president figured into his decision; since all previous presidents going back decades had voluntarily released their tax returns, the request was “minimally intrusive.” But even if Trump were still president, the court found that the request would not violate the separation of powers. The court was also unmoved by Trump’s argument that his tax returns might become public.

“Congressional investigations sometimes expose the private information of the entities, organizations, and individuals that they investigate,” the panel wrote. “This does not make them overly burdensome. It is the nature of the investigative and legislative processes.”

It also dismissed concerns that allowing the request would inflame tensions between Congress and the president — or a former president.

“While it is possible that Congress may attempt to threaten the sitting President with an invasive request after leaving office, every President takes office knowing that he will be subject to the same laws as all other citizens upon leaving office,” the court’s order said. “This is a feature of our democratic republic, not a bug.”

Rachel Weiner contributed to this report.


A previous version of this story misstated the deadline by which former president Donald Trump’s tax records could be given to Congress. It was Thursday. This version also makes clear that the House Ways and Means Committee must respond to the Supreme Court by Nov. 10.

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