The Supreme Court refused to hear Donald Trump’s plea to keep his tax returns out of Congress’ hands on Tuesday. This action finally ends the battle Trump began fighting in 2016, even before taking office when he became the first president in modern history to refuse to reveal what was on his tax returns. He argued that he couldn’t because he was under audit—a status that even if it could be confirmed, tax experts said had no bearing on whether he could release them. The fight entered the courts when Democrats took over Congress in 2019, and the House’s Ways and Means Committee, which oversees taxation, requested copies of Trump’s returns and the administration refused to release them.
The committee, chaired by Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), filed a lawsuit against Trump in July 2019 and has been successful every step of the way. But despite the courts consistently ruling in favor of the release of Trump’s records, the former president’s attorneys were able to drag the fight on for almost three and a half years.
According to the law, the committee can request the tax returns of any American. The returns can’t be released to the public, but the committee has the right to review them. Throughout the failed legal battle, Trump’s attorneys argued that Neal lacked any legitimate legislative purpose for requesting the records. At the US District Court level, a Trump-appointed judge took two years to decide but eventually ruled in favor of releasing the returns. Nonetheless, he stayed the order until the Court of Appeals considered the matter. This past August, the Court of Appeals upheld the lower order, but Trump once again appealed it, this time to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court’s ruling, which was not signed and offered no indication there was any dissent, simply said that Trump’s appeal for a stay of the ruling was denied.
The Democrats will lose control of the House in January, and presumably, the incoming GOP House leaders will have little interest in investigating Trump’s tax returns. (During the 2020 campaign Biden voluntarily released his own tax returns making any legal issue moot.) After receiving the returns, the Ways and Means Committee has no legal right to release them. The documents will, however, serve to help the committee evaluate how presidential audits are conducted, shed light on Trump’s sources of income, and reveal what strategies he may have employed to avoid paying taxes.
A lot of the most potentially riveting information how much money Trump really has, how he earned it, and to whom he’s indebted—was revealed earlier this fall in court exhibits made public as part of New York attorney general Letitia James’ $250 million civil fraud lawsuit against Trump. On Tuesday a New York judge said that case would go to trial in October 2023, despite the objections of Trump’s attorneys who said it should wait until late 2024.