The Supreme Court has issued a ruling maintaining the block against House Democrats receiving President Trump’s tax returns. The one paragraph order [pdf here] essentially maintains the stay and requests the Trump administration to file a formal request for review by the court, a “writ of certiorari”, by December 5th (noon).
It seems likely, almost certain, the House Democrat leadership was expecting this outcome; hence their earlier request for the Supreme Court to delay this predictable ruling for ten days.
The administration will almost certainly file the formal request for review by the court; and if the request is granted (very likely considering the wording of the order), the Supreme Court will hear the arguments in the spring of 2020 with a ruling sometime around June 2020 to settle the issue once and for all.
The underlying House case has several defects.
Attorney Ristvan previously provided a good encapsulation of the problems for the House that explains why President Trump would likely win the case:
House Oversight is one of three committees that 26USC§6103(f) requires the IRS to turn over individual returns “upon request”.
They requested (PDJT taxes for 6 years 2013-2018) long before Pelosi announced her impeachment inquiry, way before the House vote on same, to which Pelosi said Sunday, (paraphrased) “We haven’t decided to impeach. We are only inquiring about it.”
The ‘upon request’ is not as absolute as it seems. The request must still be predicated on a legitimate legislative purpose. SCOTUS has held (I skip the rulings, since previously commented on here many months ago) that there are only two valid purposes, both constrained to legislative powers expressly granted by A1§8.
1. An inquiry into making, repealing, or amending an A1§8 law.
2. Oversight of executive administration of an existing law.
With respect to (1), a legitimate legislative purpose would be reviewing real estate tax law for possible changes. BUT then, the request should have come from Ways and Means (Neal) where tax laws originate. AND, it should have included requests for tax returns from other big real estate developers also. Singling out only PDJT is a fatal defect to this purpose.
With respect to (2), after Nixon/Agnew the tax code was amended to require a special IRS audit of annual POTUS and VPOTUS returns, with the results held in the National Archive. Reviewing those special audits by IRS would be a proper Oversight and Reform legislative purpose, BUT ONLY for 2017-2018 after PDJT was inaugurated. The earlier 4 years demanded are a fatal defect to this purpose.
Both these valid points were raised by President Trump and were already on their way to SCOTUS. Now the committee is trying to ‘cure’ these fatal request defects by claiming the returns are necessary for impeachment. This raises four new issues where PDJT can also win.
1. Impeachment is not a legislative purpose within A1§8.
2. Articles of Impeachment have historically been the the province of Judiciary, NOT Oversight.
3. The demand was made BEFORE the impeachment inquiry unofficially started and cannot be retrospectively cured.
4. No tax ‘high crimes of misdemeanors’ have even been alleged. Impeachment fishing expeditions are unconstitutional.
IMO this case has the potential to set a major constitutional precedent about POTUS harassment via political impeachment. The constitutional convention minutes and Federalist #65 both make it clear why ‘maladministration’ (the original third test after treason and bribery, and which WOULD allow for political impeachment) was replaced by ‘High Crimes and Misdemeanors’. The phrase was borrowed from prior British law, has a specific set of meanings, and DOES NOT allow political impeachment. (link)
There is another Trump taxes case currently stemming from the Southern District of New York. The administration has request the Supreme Court to also take up that prior ruling and there is a possibility that both lower court decisions could be wrapped into one.