Politicians have made a big deal about Trump’s tax returns and news channels have run many stories about the tax return conflict. A recent story on the new mentioned how Trump was “defeated” by the Supreme Court and touted how we will soon find out the truth. The problem with this narrative is the battle for Trump’s tax returns is not over yet. The Supreme Court’s decision was more complicated than what the media presented. The Supreme Court decision did make an impact, but that impact did not end the tax return legal battle.
The Supreme Court decided on the two cases of “Trump v. Mazars” and “Trump v. Vance” early in July. In the “Trump v. Vance” case the Supreme Court held 7-2 that, “the supremacy clause of the Constitution [does] not categorically preclude, or require a heightened standard for, the issuance of a state criminal subpoena to a sitting president” (source: https://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/trump-v-vance/). The Vance ruling is significant because it dismisses the president’s claim that the subpoena for his financial records required a “higher standard” compared to the subpoena for a regular man’s financial records. In the second case of “Trump v. Mazars” the Supreme Court held 7-2 that congressional subpoenas for presidential information are enforceable, but lower courts did not adequately take into account implications of separation of powers in their rulings (source: https://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/trump-v-mazars/). “Trump v. Mazars” also created a type of test to make sure congressional subpoenas for a president’s records are necessary for their duty. In both legal battles the Supreme Court sent the respective cases back to lower courts for more proceedings. These legal outcomes are a definite loss for the president, but politically the story is different.
The political implications of these decisions depend on Trump and his campaign team can spin the narrative. On one hand Trump lost in the Supreme Court, but on the other hand the infamous tax returns could easily be stalled in the courts to prevent their release before the elections. The tax returns would most likely be released later in 2021 due to the courts taking their time. The Democratic Party is not happy about the fact that their political ammunition will come too late for the general elections; However, I think that the actual release of the tax returns would not make that big of a difference anyway.
The Democratic Party already has plenty of political ammunition to use against Trump and more gets stockpiled with every statement he makes. The tax returns would make great headlines and media profits, but I do not think they would dissuade any Trump voters or republican swing voters in great numbers to not vote for the sitting president. The battle lines for this election have clearly been drawn on race, gender, and religious issues which means that the tax returns would only help push more anti-Trump messages on democratic leaning individuals. Trump supporters have already heard that Trump lies and cheats, so they most likely wouldn’t care if he lied on his tax returns or even did not pay taxes. The issues of gun control, abortion, and immigration are so polarizing that they single-handedly decide party affiliation for many voters in America. The battle for the tax returns does have a different significance though.
The battle against president Trump’s stonewalling of financial probes is important for the legitimacy of our democracy. If presidents can just cheat on taxes, the whole checks and balances system seems pointless and corruption wins. Trump has fundamentally viewed the president as a king and the countless cases against him dispute that notion. Every legal victory against the president could help fix the increasing distrust in the federal government. People want the government to help them and the Trump administration for many people only made things worse. The prevailing of justice against the president who views himself as a king could influence peoples trust in government institutions in a big way. Overall, the Supreme Court decisions will most likely keep the tax return issue quiet for Trump’s reelection campaign, but in the long term this scuffle could have larger effects on public opinion and the office of the president itself.
Sources: https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/07/22/key-findings-about-americans-declining-trust-in-government-and-each-other/, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/07/09/faq-trump-taxes-supreme-court/, https://ballotpedia.org/Trump_v._Vance, https://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/trump-v-mazars/, https://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/trump-v-vance/, https://www.rollcall.com/2020/07/09/trump-mazars-supreme-court-decision-congress-subpoena-power/, https://www.npr.org/2020/07/09/884447882/supreme-court-says-trump-not-immune-from-records-release-pushes-back-on-congress