Earlier this year, California passed yet another law aimed at trying to keep Donald Trump off the primary ballot in their state next year. The law required all prospective candidates to submit their federal tax returns for the most recent five years to the California Secretary of State, after which they would be made available online (and to the media) with certain personal information redacted. That law was immediately challenged and a federal judge blocked it on October 2nd.
The state appealed that decision and it was tossed to the state supreme court. In relatively short order the court came back with its own ruling. The law is in violation of the state constitution and can not be enforced. (Law and Crime)
The California Supreme Court blocked a law aimed at requiring President Donald Trump to release his tax returns if he was to appear on the state’s primary ballot. Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye penned the opinion of the court, and the rest of the justices concurred.
The Chief Justice began by pointing out why the court moved so quickly to rule on the Presidential Tax Transparency and Accountability Act…
“Because of the important and time-sensitive nature of this controversy, we have exercised our original jurisdiction to entertain an emergency petition for a writ of mandate that would forbid the Secretary of State from enforcing the pertinent sections of the Act.”
The court needed to act quickly because the filing deadline for ballot access was rapidly approaching. The justices apparently found no flaws in the lower court’s ruling and went with the same decision.
At issue here is a provision in the state constitution requiring “an inclusive open presidential primary ballot.” The Chief Justice went on to explain that only the voters are allowed to decide whether the refusal of a “recognized candidate” to provide certain documents would have repercussions at the ballot box. In other words, Trump’s opponents are free to point out that he’s not divulging his tax returns, but he can’t be forced to do it.
This was a better outcome than Trump received from the DC Court of Appeals last month when they allowed a demand by the House Oversight Committee for the President’s tax returns to move forward. Of course, that case has nothing to do with ballot access. Instead, it’s the result of a fishing expedition by House Democrats where they demanded access to the tax returns to “investigate possible crimes” without ever specifying what those crimes might be.
The Supreme Court will have to tackle that one, and could possibly wind up looking at the California case as well if the state appeals the ruling. What the courts will eventually have to decide is how freely people’s tax returns (particularly the President’s) can be exposed. Our tax laws go to great lengths to ensure that the tax returns of citizens remain private except in very limited circumstances.
There’s never been a law requiring candidates to release their returns. It’s only been done as a custom. Presidential candidates don’t actually have to provide any personal information beyond proof that they are natural-born citizens and that their age is 35 or older. If someone is suspected of tax fraud or some other crime where tax records could be expected to provide useful evidence, then the documents can be requested through the proper channels. That certainly doesn’t appear to be the case in California and may not apply to the House request either.