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 records could have been handed over to the House Ways and Means Committee as early as Thursday.
Last week, the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit declined to review earlier rulings finding that lawmakers are entitled to the documents in the long-running legal battle. The court also said it would not 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.
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 release of the records would cause Trump “irreparable harm.”
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 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.
“As a supposed attempt to study the presidential audit program, the Committee’s request was far off target,” his filing to the Supreme Court states. “President Trump was not subject to that program for half of the tax years in the initial request, and none of the business entities in the request ever have been. The request also purported to study a program that has covered every President and Vice President since 1977 by requesting information related to a single individual.”
But federal judges have consistently ruled that the lawmakers established the “valid legislative purpose” required for disclosure.
The appellate court said Trump’s status as a former president figured into its 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 also was 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.”
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 is Thursday.