California Law Requiring Presidential Candidates to Release Tax Returns Struck Down by State Supreme Court

November 25, 2019 Updated: November 25, 2019

In a setback for California Democrats, the state’s highest court struck down a new state law that would require all presidential candidates to release the past five years of their tax returns to appear on the primary ballot.

The California Supreme Court justices ultimately agreed with Republicans who had challenged the law, stating it was “in conflict with the Constitution’s specification of an inclusive open presidential primary ballot,” Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye wrote in the 7–0 decision on Nov. 21.

At the hearing in the case, the concerns of Newsom’s predecessor Jerry Brown, who vetoed a similar bill in 2017, were mentioned. Former Governor Brown at the time of vetoing the other bill questioned the constitutionality of the bill and warned that mandating the release of tax returns could set a precedent where other aspects of a candidate’s past would become mandatory.

“We have this arrogance and overreach of the California Legislature where they’re not even taking into consideration the state constitution. The fact the Legislature completely ignored that and the governor signed it is troubling,” said California GOP Chair Jessica Patterson, who filed the lawsuit, according to the Sacramento Bee.

Jay Russel, an attorney representing Secretary of State Alex Padilla, argued that the legislature had the ability to implement laws about how the state’s primary elections would be administered. He argued that the tax returns mandate was “akin to a procedural filing fee.”

The law in question, Senate Bill 27, reads in part: “This bill would enact the Presidential Tax Transparency and Accountability Act, which would require a candidate for President, in order to have the candidate’s name placed upon a primary election ballot, to file the candidate’s income tax returns for the 5 most recent taxable years with the Secretary of State, as specified.”

It was signed into law by Governor Newsom on July 30 after being approved by the state assembly 57-17 and the state senate 29-10, entirely along party lines.

Many legal experts had questioned the law’s constitutionality and expected it to be overturned.

“The issues are pretty clear. In order to run for president, you have to [qualify] for only a couple of things. That includes being 35 years old, having been a resident of the United States for 14 years and a natural born citizen. That’s it. Congress cannot add anything beyond that without changing the constitution,” Los Angeles-based legal expert, Barak Lurie told The Epoch Times.

“States are allowed to maintain their electoral college integrity, but effectively controlling who can be on the ballot based upon whether that particular [candidate] provides tax returns or anything else [creates] a cacophony of different [requirements] in 50 different states,” Lurie added. “[One] state may want to make sure that [they] believe in God, while another needs to pledge that they are [opposed] to abortion. We would have a hodgepodge of laws that would otherwise have a serious impact on our elections.”

The Trump Administration’s lawyers and the California GOP sued to block the law shortly after its passing. Judge Morrison England blocked the law earlier this year, stating that it was “primarily intended to force President Trump to disclose his tax returns” and violated the constitution’s election qualification rules.

California could still appeal to the US Supreme Court, where it’s considered unlikely to win support in enacting the new law.