Chief Justice John Roberts on Tuesday temporarily blocked the House Ways and Means Committee from obtaining several years' worth of former President Donald Trump's tax records, two days before they were due to be handed over.
Roberts, in a brief order, issued an interim stay of a ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit pending further action from either him or the full court. He also ordered the Ways and Means Committee to respond to Trump's emergency request for the Supreme Court to intervene in the long-running dispute over his tax records by Nov. 10.
Roberts oversees emergency matters arising from the D.C. Circuit.
Trump on Monday turned to the high court after the federal appeals court in Washington last week refused his request for the full court to reconsider a decision by a three-judge panel finding that the Ways and Means Committee could obtain several years of his tax returns.
The refusal of the D.C. Circuit to rehear the case paved the way for the IRS to hand over Trump's tax records to the House panel, and the agency was poised to do so on Thursday.
In the emergency request to Roberts, Trump's lawyers said the dispute with House Democrats over his records raises separation of powers questions that will affect future presidents.
"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," they claimed.
Trump's legal team also told the Supreme Court that public statements from Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, a Democrat from Massachusetts who sought the records, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi indicate they aim to obtain the former president's financial records to expose his "tax information to the public for the sake of exposure."
The legal fight between Trump and congressional Democrats stems from a request Neal made to the IRS in 2019 for several years of tax returns and related information for Trump and some of his business entities. Neal's request was made under a federal law that allows Congress to request the tax information of certain individuals from the agency.
At the time, the Treasury Department under the Trump administration declined to comply, arguing Neal's request was not supported by a legitimate legislative purpose. The committee then sued the IRS and Treasury Department to force them to hand over the records.
As the dispute was pending, President Biden assumed office and Neal renewed his request, this time seeking tax returns for 2015 to 2020. The Biden administration said the Treasury Department must give the records to Congress, which the department said it intended to do.
Trump again turned to the courts to block the release of his returns, unsuccessfully arguing the requests from House Democrats was unconstitutional and lacked a valid legislative purpose.
In his filing with the Supreme Court, Trump said the legal issues presented in his case are "unsettled" and warrant the high court's review.
"No Congress has ever wielded its legislative powers to demand a president's tax returns," his lawyers wrote, later adding that Congress does not have a pressing need for Trump's information "so it can study generic legislation about funding and regulating future IRS audits of future presidents."
Trump has in numerous court battles sought to shield his financial information from congressional and state investigators. In 2019, the House Oversight and Reform Committee issued a subpoena to his accounting firm, Mazars, for years of the former president's financial records, kicking off a legal battle that ended up before the Supreme Court and then was sent back to the lower courts. Trump and the Oversight Committee reached a settlement in September, ending the litigation.
The Supreme Court also ruled in June 2020 that Manhattan's district attorney could obtain troves of Trump's business records and tax returns. The financial information was turned over in February 2021 after the high court again rejected an attempt by Trump to shield his records from prosecutors.