2ND UPDATE, 5:49 PM: President Donald Trump won’t have to disclose his tax returns in order to be listed on the ballot for the California primary after all. The Golden State’s Supreme Court ruled unanimously today to strike down the law enacted in July, saying it violates the California Constitution that guarantees “an inclusive open presidential primary ballot.” Read details of the case and its journey through the courts below.
UPDATED, Sept. 20: A federal judge blocked the state of California law that would leave President Donald Trump off the primary ballot if he did not release the past five years of his tax returns.
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The law would have applied to all presidential and gubernatorial candidates, but the judge said in a hearing that the “elephant in the room” was Trump’s tax returns, which he has refused to release. The judge will issue a final decision later.
PREVIOUSLY, Aug. 6: President Donald Trump and his re-election campaign predictably have sued the state of California over its new law that requires presidential candidates to release their tax returns to be ineligible for the state’s primary ballot.
The litigator-in-chief and reps from the Republican Party filed separate suits today against California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Secretary of State Alex Padilla.
Trump’s personal lawyers said in a statement today: “The issue of whether the President should release his federal tax returns was litigated in the 2016 election and the American people spoke,” Jay Sekulow, a personal lawyer for Trump, said in a statement. “The effort to deny California voters the opportunity to cast a ballot for President Trump in 2020 will clearly fail. Legal scholars from across the political spectrum have roundly condemned this flagrantly illegal statute.”
The suits are the third and fourth against the California law, including one filed last week by conservative group Judicial Watch on behalf of voters. Read details of the new law below.
PREVIOUSLY, July 30: Donald Trump just took another hit from the left — this time from the coast. Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed a law that makes presidential candidates ineligible California’s primary ballot unless they release their tax returns from the past five years.
Passed along party lines two weeks ago, Senate Bill 27 (read it here) mandates that all White House hopefuls must submit five years of income tax filings by late November to get on the March ballot. Trump — who promised repeatedly during his campaign that he would release his tax returns — is not named specifically in the legislation, which does not extend to the general election and doesn’t apply to write-in candidates. It does, however, cover gubernatorial candidates.
The state plans to post candidates’ returns online.
“As one of the largest economies in the world and home to one in nine Americans eligible to vote, California has a special responsibility to require this information of presidential and gubernatorial candidates,” Newsom said in a statement. “These are extraordinary times and states have a legal and moral duty to do everything in their power to ensure leaders seeking the highest offices meet minimal standards, and to restore public confidence. The disclosure required by this bill will shed light on conflicts of interest, self-dealing, or influence from domestic and foreign business interest.”
Of course, Trump isn’t known for taking a punch without hitting back, so we can expect an imminent legal challenge from his not-underworked lawyers. Trump’s chief legal counsel rebutted the new law in an email to reporters today, saying, “The State of California’s attempt to circumvent the Constitution will be answered in court.”
There indeed are constitutional questions surrounding the new law. The states have power to set the place, time and other details about their elections, but the Constitution sets the requirements for the president. There’s also a First Amendment question.
Newsom’s predecessor, Gov. Jerry Brown, vetoed a similar bill two years ago, and other states have tried a similar tack.
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