The twice impeached insurrectionist popular-vote-losing ex-president had a phenomenal backup plan, he thought, for staying in office forever: a captive U.S. Supreme Court. When Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, Trump made his calculations abundantly clear. He was going to need the court to uphold his objections to the election. “I think this will end up in the Supreme Court. And I think it’s very important we have nine justices,” he said in late September 2020.
It didn’t work out for him, with the last of his challenges summarily rejected by the court in March 2021 after turning several of his previous efforts away. Now his hand-picked court has betrayed him again with a two-sentence denial of his request to block the House Ways and Means Committee from obtaining six years’ worth of his personal and business federal tax returns. The court’s order was unsigned, and no justices dissented.
Trump responded, typically, with rage on his Truth Social Platform. “Why would anybody be surprised that the Supreme Court has ruled against me, they always do!” Trump complained. “It is unprecedented to be handing over Tax Returns, & it creates terrible precedent for future Presidents. Has Joe Biden paid taxes on all of the money he made illegally from Hunter & beyond.”
This is the best part: “The Supreme Court has lost its honor, prestige, and standing, and has become nothing more than a political body, with our Country paying the price. They refused to even look at the Election Hoax of 2020. Shame on them!”
This is the end of a three-year effort by the House committee to obtain Trump’s tax returns from the IRS. Trump, unlike all his modern predecessors, steadfastly refused to make his returns public, insisting that he couldn’t because they were being audited, an audit that lasted even longer than his infrastructure week. The committee’s intent in getting the returns was to help shape potential legislation about federal tax laws as they apply to a sitting president, and to evaluate the process of annual presidential audits. They want Trump’s returns from the period he was squatting in the Oval Office, in addition to the year before and the year after for comparison.
The court’s staying out of this wouldn’t be notable beyond the fact that the conservative majority has been willing to do just about anything to pursue a partisan objective. Under federal law, the Ways and Means Committee is allowed—for purposes of legislative oversight—to request specific tax returns of any person, including a president.
It’s still telling just how determined this SCOTUS is to distance itself from its architect. It’s like the three Trump appointees know they’ll all have an asterisk by their names for the whole of history.
Solicitor General Elizabeth B. Prelogar, representing the Biden administration, had advised the court to stay out of this one, citing the long-standing tradition of the the court staying out of legislative and executive branch disputes. “Throughout our Nation’s history, congressional requests for information have been driven by mixed legislative and political motives,” she told the court in a filing. “But time and again, this Court has rejected attempts to invalidate otherwise appropriate legislative requests based on evidence of additional motives.”
This is all very last -minute, however, for the departing Democratic majority on the committee and the end of this session of Congress. A Democratic aide told The Washington Post that the committee might be able to publicly release a synopsis of the key information in the returns under the presidential audit program. The work of the committee could also shift to the Senate Finance Committee since it will stay in Democratic hands.
“The Finance Committee is reviewing its options,” a spokeswoman told the Post.
Outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi applauded the decision in statement, saying it “upholds our Democracy, the rule of law and the Congress’ ability to execute its legislative and oversight responsibilities. Now, the Congress must enact legislation requiring Presidents and candidates for President to disclose their tax returns.”
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