Trump Touts Court Win Against California Over Tax Return Disclosure Law

October 2, 2019 Updated: October 2, 2019

President Donald Trump hailed a federal court verdict ruling blocking a law passed by California that was aimed at keeping Trump off the 2020 primary ballot there.

Trump, the presumptive Republican Party presidential nominee, would have been forced to release five years’ worth of personal tax returns under the law, Senate Bill 27.

U.S. District Judge Morrison England Jr. said in a written opinion released late Oct. 1 (pdf) that the law likely violates the Constitution. He had issued a temporary injunction on Sept. 19.

Trump on Oct. 2 cheered the ruling, writing on Twitter: “I won the right to be a presidential candidate in California, in a major Court decision handed down yesterday. It was filed against me by the Radical Left Governor of that State to tremendous Media hoopla. The VICTORY, however, was barely covered by the Fake News. No surprise!”

California Gov. Gavin Newsom
California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks during a news conference at the California State Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., on March 13, 2019. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

England, a nominee of former President George W. Bush, said that while he appreciates California officials trying to get political candidates to be more transparent, the law was overstepping legal boundaries.

“The Court appreciates the State’s desire for transparency in the political process. Requiring candidates to disclose tax returns could shed light on sources of income, potential conflicts of interest, and charitable tendencies,” England wrote.

“It is not the job of the courts, however, to decide whether a tax return disclosure requirement is good policy or makes political sense. Those are questions delegated to the political branches of the federal government, that is Congress and the president, under Articles I and II of the United States Constitution.”

England noted that the Sixteenth Amendment was ratified in 1913, authorizing a national income tax through the filing of individual tax returns with the IRS.

“Since that time, there has never been a legal requirement that any candidate for federal office disclose their tax returns as a precondition to standing for election,” he wrote, until the California law.

“The legislative history and statements made by state legislators during its consideration strongly suggest it was primarily intended to force President Trump to disclose his tax returns.”

The state legislature passed a similar bill in 2017 but that was vetoed by then-Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat and a Trump opponent who said that the law may not be constitutional and would set “a ‘slippery slope’ precedent.”

“Today, we require tax returns, but what would be next? Five years of health records? A certified birth certificate? High school report cards? And will these requirements vary depending on which political party is in power?” Brown wrote at the time.

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla said shortly after the ruling was issued that his office would appeal the decision.

“California will appeal this ruling and we will continue to make our thorough, thoughtful argument for stronger financial disclosure requirements for presidential and gubernatorial candidates,” Padilla said in a statement obtained by the Los Angeles Times. “Our elected leaders have a legal and moral obligation to be transparent with voters about potential conflicts of interest. This law is fundamental to preserving and protecting American democracy.”

Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office said he supports the planned appeal.

“States have a legal and moral duty to restore public confidence in government and ensure leaders seeking the highest offices meet minimal standards,” said Jesse Melgar, a spokesman for the governor.

Follow Zachary on Twitter: @zackstieber
RECOMMENDED