Running to approximately 25 pages of statutory text, §6103 of the Internal Revenue Code sets out a simple “general rule,” that tax returns and return information cannot be disclosed by federal employees or persons receiving such materials from federal employees. This straightforward provision is then modified by a maze of exceptions, several of which are the subject of litigation between Congressional Democrats seeking President Trump’s tax returns and the President seeking to avoid such disclosure. The resulting court cases present a number of potentially novel issues about the confidentiality of, and Congressional authority to obtain, tax returns that should be resolved in the coming months, and also suggest potential implications of §6103 in other contexts.
Section 6103’s Many Exceptions. The current structure of §6103—a presumption of confidentiality with enumerated exceptions—was established by Congress via amendments adopted in 1976, following revelations that President Nixon was seeking the tax returns of political opponents, presumably to harass them. See Congressional Research Service (CRS), Congressional Access to the President’s Federal Tax Returns (May 7, 2019).
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