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Trump Scores Significant Delay from Chief Justice Roberts on SCOTUS ‘Shadow Docket’ as Democrats Tripped Up Yet Again in Years-Long Quest for Tax Returns

A photo shows Donald Trump holding his hand above his eyes while looking out at a crowd.

Former President Donald Trump was photographed speaking at a rally on Sept. 17, 2022 in Youngstown, Ohio.

Former President Donald Trump will be able to keep his tax returns away from congressional investigators at least awhile longer after an early morning intervention by U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts in response to an emergency request filed late Monday.

The temporary hold order will give the full court time to consider the legal issues raised in the 45th president’s appeal. That appeal sought to stop the IRS from releasing seven years’ worth of Trump’s tax returns and various related financial information to the House Ways and Means Committee – which has sought the documents since 2019.

Lower courts have repeatedly ruled in favor of House Democrats in their efforts to obtain the ex-president’s tax returns. Whether or not the committee ever receives those documents is now in the hands of the conservative-dominated Supreme Court.

Stylized as Trump v. Committee on Ways and Means, the case could eventually be considered for oral argument and an eventual decision, sometime in the future, on the merits by the nation’s high court.

While today’s decision by the chief justice is not a merits decision, the delay hands Trump and Republicans a significant victory by way of what legal scholars have termed the court’s “shadow docket.”

It takes at least four justices to grant certiorari on a case and hear the arguments in full from at least two opposing sides.

If the controversy were to be taken up by full court, the long-running legal dispute would likely be drawn out past the midterm elections. The Nov. 8, 2022 contests are assumed by pollsters to result in the Democratic Party losing control of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Such a change in government at that level of the legislative branch would, perhaps, render the case moot as Republicans would be loath to continue pursuing the leader of their own party’s well-guarded financial information. Roberts’ order, however, is an administrative pause that could, in theory, last only a few days or weeks.

Without Roberts’ intervention, the documents would have been provided to the committee on Thursday of this week.

The eleventh-hour request forestalled the mandate issued in August of this year by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. That appellate ruling affirmed a December 2021 ruling issued by Trump-appointed U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden which signed off on congressional investigators’ requests.

In both instances, the courts prioritized congressional efforts to study the Presidential Audit Program, an IRS program that mandates the sitting president and vice president of the United States be audited by the federal tax collection agency. In their statement of purpose laying out the reasoning for seeking Trump’s returns, Democrats have said they are considering legislation to change either the funding or mechanisms of the program as it currently exists.

Trump, in turn, has claimed that the reasoning advanced by Democrats is simply and obviously pretextual.

“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,” the Monday request argued. “Business entities aren’t even subject to the program of the Committee’s professed concern, nor were the requested individual returns from years outside President Trump’s tenure in office.”

In the since-granted filing, attorneys for the 45th president suggested that the high court could both grant the stay and fashion the emergency request into a petition for writ of certiorari. While the exact procedural posture of the case, if it continues, is presently unclear, House Democrats now have until Nov. 10, 2022 to respond.

Attorneys for Trump and the Ways and Means Committee did not immediately respond to inquiries about today’s high court order.

[Image via Jeff Swensen/Getty Images]

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