Following in the footsteps of Judicial Watch, President Donald Trump and his campaign and the Republican state and national parties filed two separate lawsuits today over the tax return law recently signed by California Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Each case alleges California’s move to make releasing a candidate’s tax returns a prerequisite to being placed on the state’s primary ballot was unconstitutional.
"We will not allow California's Democrats to use the state's voters as pawns in their petty political vendettas to trample all over the Constitution," RNC National Committeewoman and Vice President of the Republican National Lawyers Association, Harmeet K. Dhillon said in a release. "This law is a cynical and illegal voter suppression scheme whose sole purpose is to deny California voters their Constitutionally protected right to vote for qualified candidates for president, and to suppress the Republican vote in California not just for president but also for all the down-ticket races, ballot measures and power grabs the Democrats have in store for the 2020 ballot."
State Sen. Mike McGuire, who co-authored Senate Bill 27, shot back at Trump and what his office deemed “a frivolous lawsuit against the state of California.”
“Releasing of tax returns has never been a big deal, up until now. All presidents have done it for 40 years,” McGuire said. “It comes as no surprise that President Trump would freak out at the prospect of presidential transparency and accountability, but he will need to get used to it. Welcome to the rule of law, Mr. President.”
Judicial Watch, a self-described “conservative, non-partisan educational foundation” that “promotes transparency, accountability and integrity in government, politics and the law,” is suing the state of California over a law that requires presidential and gubernatorial candidates to show their personal taxes returns to get on the primary ballot.
The federal lawsuit comes just as the ink sets on Senate Bill 27, with Judicial Watch arguing the legislation adds requirements “beyond those allowed by the U.S. Constitution and impermissibly burdens a voters’ expressive constitutional and statutory rights.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the bill into law July 30
, stating that “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.”
Co-penned by North Coast state Sen. Mike McGuire McGuire — who praised Newsom’s signing as a victory for transparency — and Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco, presidential hopefuls and gubernatorial candidates must now produce “copies of every income tax return filed with the Internal Revenue Service in the five most recent taxable years with the Secretary of State, at least 98 days prior to the corresponding primary election.”
In a release, Judicial Watch alleges S.B. 27 is political in nature and outside the bounds of California’s “legitimate constitutional role in administering and establishing procedures for conducting federal elections.”
The foundation points to concerns raised by former Gov. Jerry Brown when he vetoed similar legislation
back in 2017.
“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 in his veto message.
Echoing those remarks (and quoting them), Judicial Watch says the precedent being set by the Golden State could have far-reaching repercussions.
“Using rationales similar to California’s, states might come to demand medical records, mental health records, sealed juvenile records, driving records, results of intelligence, aptitude, or personality tests, college applications, Amazon purchases, Google search histories, browsing histories or Facebook friends," the release states.
Ultimately, the foundation argues, the tax return policy boils down to a direct rebuke to President Donald Trump, who has refused to turn over his tax information in reversal of a tradition that dates back half a century.
“California politicians, in their zeal to attack President Trump, passed a law that also unconstitutionally victimizes California voters,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said in the release. “It is an obvious legal issue that a state can’t amend the U.S. Constitution by adding qualifications in order to run for president. The courts can’t stop this abusive law fast enough.”
Read the full Judicial Watch release below:
(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch announced today that it filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of four California voters to prevent the California secretary of state from implementing a new state law requiring all presidential candidates who wish to appear on California’s primary ballot to publicly disclose their personal tax returns from the past five years (Jerry Griffin et al. v. Alex Padilla (No. 2:19-cv-01477). The suit alleges that the law unconstitutionally adds a new qualification for candidates for president. Judicial Watch’s clients include a registered Independent, Republican, and Democrat California voter.
Under the law, known as the Presidential Tax Transparency and Accountability Act, candidates who do not publicly disclose their tax returns are barred from having their names printed on California’s primary ballots. Judicial Watch alleges that SB 27 imposes candidate qualifications beyond those allowed by the U.S. Constitution and impermissibly burdens a voters’ expressive constitutional and statutory rights. The lawsuit claims violations of the U.S. Constitution’s Qualifications Clause, the First and Fourteenth Amendments, and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 1988.
During the 2017-2018 legislative session, then-Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a previous version of this law, which California’s Legislative Counsel concluded “would be unconstitutional if enacted.” In vetoing the 2017-18 tax return law, Brown noted:
First, it may not be constitutional. Second, it sets 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? A qualified candidate’s ability to appear on the ballot is fundamental to our democratic system. For that reason, I hesitate to start down a road that well might lead to an ever escalating set of differing state requirements for presidential candidates.
The Judicial Watch complaint further alleges the political nature of the law, which is totally divorced from the states’ legitimate constitutional role in administering and establishing procedures for conducting federal elections:
None of the interests proffered by the California legislature for requiring the disclosure of candidates’ tax returns is related to election procedure or administration. Rather, the stated interests incorporate particular, substantive judgments about what is most important for voters to know when considering a candidate, how voters should go about “estimate[ing] the risk” of a candidate “engaging in corruption,” and what might assist law enforcement in detecting violations of the Emoluments Clause and crimes “such as insider trading.”
Unless SB 27 is enjoined, states will assume the power to create their own qualifications for national candidates seeking to obtain a party’s nomination for president. This could lead to as many as 50 distinct and possibly inconsistent sets of qualifications regarding the only national election in the United States. Using rationales similar to California’s, states might come to demand medical records, mental health records, sealed juvenile records, driving records, results of intelligence, aptitude, or personality tests, college applications, Amazon purchases, Google search histories, browsing histories, or Facebook friends.
“California politicians, in their zeal to attack President Trump, passed a law that also unconstitutionally victimizes California voters,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “It is an obvious legal issue that a state can’t amend the U.S. Constitution by adding qualifications in order to run for president. The courts can’t stop this abusive law fast enough.”