WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court said Friday it will hear President Donald Trump's appeal and decide whether the Constitution shields his tax returns and business records from being released to House Democrats and New York prosecutors.
The court's action sets the stage for a politically charged decision next year, just as Trump campaigns for reelection.
If the justices uphold the congressional subpoenas, Trump's tax returns and other financial records could be turned over by the summer. However, if the high court rules for Trump, he could continue his reelection campaign without having to disclose private financial details that most other presidential aspirants have, including the amount and sources of his income, taxes he has paid and business dealings of the Trump Organization.
At issue for the court is a fundamental question involving the separation of powers: Does Congress have broad power to investigate and demand information from the executive branch, including from the president, or is the chief executive shielded from congressional meddling into his personal affairs?
It makes for a classic constitutional clash, with the Supreme Court refereeing a dispute between Congress and the White House.
Lawyers for the House say Congress has a long and honored history of conducting investigations, and they argue that "valid subpoenas" to Trump's accountants and bankers carry the force of law. They won before federal district judges and the U.S. appeals court in Washington in October and the 2nd Circuit Court in New York this month.
However, the justices put those decisions on hold and have now agreed to hear oral arguments in several months.
Trump has been confident he would prevail before the Supreme Court because five of the nine justices are Republican appointees.
In their appeals, Trump's lawyers said the House demands for the president's personal and business records are unprecedented in their aim and scope. "It is the first time that Congress has subpoenaed personal records of a sitting president," they told the court. It is also "the first time that Congress has issued a subpoena, under the guise of its legislative powers, to investigate the president for illegal conduct."
The Constitution does not specifically say Congress has the power of oversight or investigation, but it has been understood that its "legislative powers" include the authority to investigate the workings of the government. Trump's lawyers insist this general congressional authority does not include investigating "law breaking" or "illegal conduct."