WASHINGTON — The House urged the Supreme Court on Thursday not to further delay the long-running lawsuit by a committee that is seeking former President Donald J. Trump’s tax returns, saying that continuing to block access to the files would undermine Congress’s constitutional authority.
Such a delay “would leave the committee and Congress as a whole little or no time to complete their legislative work during this Congress, which is quickly approaching its end,” Douglas N. Letter, the chief lawyer for the House, wrote in a 38-page brief.
The question before the Supreme Court — whether to extend a stay that is preventing the Treasury Department from giving the returns to the House Ways and Means Committee — carries strong political overtones. The move could enable Mr. Trump to thwart congressional oversight by using the slow pace of litigation to run out the clock.
States are continuing to count the votes from Tuesday’s midterm election. But Republicans appear likely to take a majority of seats in the House when the new Congress is seated in early January, in which case the request would almost certainly be dropped.
The Biden administration also asked the Supreme Court on Thursday not to intervene further, although it made no reference to the political realities. Instead, in a 29-page brief, the solicitor general, Elizabeth B. Prelogar, noted that a district court judge, an appeals court panel and the full Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit had all agreed that the law gives the committee a right to see the files.
“The court of appeals’ decision is correct and does not warrant further review,” Ms. Prelogar wrote.
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The case centers on the decision by Mr. Trump to break with modern precedent by presidential candidates and presidents by refusing to make public his tax returns.
In 2019, when Democrats took over Congress, Richard E. Neal, a Massachusetts Democrat who is the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, asked the Treasury Department to provide them under a federal law that gives his panel the authority to see any taxpayer’s documents.
But the Trump administration refused to let the department turn over the records. In July 2019, the House filed a lawsuit seeking to enforce its request. But the case was assigned to a Trump-appointed judge, Trevor McFadden, who delayed making any ruling.
In 2021, when the current Congress was seated, Mr. Neal renewed his request for Mr. Trump’s tax returns. The Justice Department, now under the Biden administration, issued a memorandum saying the committee had a legal right to obtain the records.
In December 2021, Judge McFadden finally moved on the case, agreeing that the law gives the committee a legal right to obtain the records. In August, a panel on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld that decision, and last month the full appeals court rejected Mr. Trump’s request that it rehear the case.
Mr. Trump then turned to the Supreme Court. The Trump legal team has argued that Mr. Neal’s request lacks a valid legislative purpose and that his claim to be studying a program that audits presidents is a pretext for a politically motivated abuse of power.
In asking the Supreme Court to extend the stay, Mr. Trump’s legal team suggested the political calendar was immaterial since the House could always renew its request in January 2023, as it did in January 2021. It did not address the implications of the possibility that party control of the House may switch then.
In response, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. last week temporarily barred the Treasury Department from complying with the House’s request, while asking the House and Justice Department to reply by Thursday. The deadline suggests the full Supreme Court will soon rule on the matter.
In its brief, the House also argued that any eventual ruling that Congress lacked authority to request Mr. Trump’s tax returns would undermine its “constitutional authority to investigate and legislate.”
Doing so, Mr. Letter wrote, would in effect prevent “Congress from completing any investigation involving a former president whenever there are allegations that the investigation was politically motivated.”