California Supreme Court Strikes Down Trump Tax Return Law

Topline: A law that would have required President Donald Trump to release his federal tax returns was unanimously struck down by the State Supreme Court Thursday, handing Trump a victory as he tries to shield his tax returns from the public.

  • Seven judges on the California Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the measure, signed by Governor Gavin Newsom in July, violates state law about primary ballot eligibility.
  • The judges ruled that the law is “in conflict with the Constitution’s specification of an inclusive open presidential primary ballot” and “it is the voters who must decide whether the refusal of a candidate . . . to make such information available to the public will have consequences at the ballot box.”
  • The law would have required candidates—starting with the March 2020 primary—to hand over five years’ worth of income tax returns if they wanted to appear on the state’s primary ballot.
  • While the text of the measure didn’t mention Trump by name, the law was clearly aimed at him. 
  • The state defended the law as a prerequisite for office that would help voters discern potential conflicts of interest, while Republicans who sued to block the law criticized the effort as a blatant partisan attempt to embarrass the president.   
  • A federal judge ruled in a separate case in October that California’s law also violates the U.S. constitution.

Alexander Padilla, California’s secretary of state, who would be in charge of enforcing such a law, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Crucial quote: “Today’s ruling is a victory for every California voter,” Jessica Millan Patterson, chairwoman of the California Republican Party, said in a statement. “We are pleased that the courts saw through the Democrats’ petty partisan maneuvers and saw this law for what it is—an unconstitutional attempt to suppress Republican voter turnout.”

News peg: In a separate legal case, the U.S. Supreme Court may decide to hear arguments over whether Congress can subpoena Trump’s accounting firm for his tax returns. Trump has lost a series of decisions about the issue, and his legal team has appealed to the highest court in the case.

Key background: Trump is one of two presidents over the past 40 years who hasn’t voluntarily released his tax returns. The other, Gerald Ford, released summary tax data, not his full tax returns. Democrats have filed several different lawsuits attempting to get hold of his tax records.

Further reading: Read the full California Supreme Court decision here.

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