For the Resistance, President Donald Trump’s tax returns represent the Holy Grail. Ever since Mr. Trump ignored precedent — what would you expect? — and refused during the 2016 campaign to release his filings, frustrated Democrats have concocted all sorts of dubious schemes to get their hands on his tax information.
California went so far as to pass a law limiting primary ballot access for presidential candidates who failed to make their IRS data public. Not surprisingly, it went down in flames after the statute’s initial judicial review. New York lawmakers then enacted a law in July — clearly targeting Mr. Trump — allowing the release of state tax returns for any “specified and legitimate legislative purpose,” which apparently includes vexing the president.
Meanwhile, House Democrats, since retaking the majority, have pestered the White House with various subpoenas as part of their impeachment fetish. This includes demands for the president’s tax returns.
On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court finally stepped into the fray, ordering an indefinite delay in the House’s effort to get a peek at Mr. Trump’s financial information. The justices are also considering an appeal of a federal court ruling regarding the New York legislation. The high court’s intervention is the proper course of action.
No president is above the law, of course, and the tax code allows Congress to examine an individual’s returns in private if it advances a legitimate legislative need. But a good case can be made that the push to force Mr. Trump to reveal this information derives more from a desire to find some nugget that might harm him politically than from a true legislative purpose.
As University of Iowa law professor Andy Grewal noted in the Yale Journal on Regulation, the Supreme Court has held that “there is no congressional power to expose for the sake of exposure” and Congress may not whimsically conduct investigations “into the personal affairs of individuals.” After all, no law mandates that presidents or presidential candidates reveal their 1040s, and the IRS has never initiated any criminal tax evasion allegations against Mr. Trump, despite having reviewed decades of his filings.
Mr. Trump would have been wise to release his returns four years ago, potentially neutering this issue. But the president’s refusal doesn’t necessary reflect that he has something to hide. That could be the case, to be sure, but Mr. Trump’s modus operandi includes a stubborn tendency to fight for the sake of fighting.
House Democrats said that they will back off the tax subpoenas to allow the filing of legal briefs now that the Supreme Court has become involved. Good. The issues surrounding Mr. Trump’s taxes invoke serious questions about personal privacy and executive privilege and cry out for judicial review from the nation’s highest court.