Lest the voters have an unfettered choice of candidates, 25 states have introduced legislation targeting President Donald Trump to keep him off the ballot in 2020.
The bills would require that to get on the ballot in any state, a presidential candidate must have released his or her taxes, Axios has reported. Trump, a billionaire before he won the 2016 election, has refused to release his tax returns.
To date, no state has approved such a law. In California and New Jersey, the bill did get as far as passing the state legislature, but in both cases it was vetoed.
New Jersey’s bill was killed in 2017 by former Gov. Chris Christie, who called it “clearly unconstitutional” and a “transparent political stunt masquerading as a bill.”
“Unwilling to cope with the results of last November’s election, the Legislature introduced this unconstitutional bill as a form of therapy to deal with their disbelief at the 2016 election results, and to play politics to their base,” the Republican, a staunch Trump ally, wrote in vetoing the measure, according to NJ.com.
California Gov. Jerry Brown made it clear he did not veto the bill to support Trump, but to stop his state from going down a slippery slope.
“Today we require tax returns, but what would be next?” Brown wrote in his veto message, according to the Los Angeles Times. “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?”
Despite those examples, similar legislation continues to be advanced in various states.
This month, Rhode Island’s state Senate approved such a law, which will now be debated by the other house of the state’s legislature, the Providence Journal reported.
Maryland’s state Senate also passed the bill, which is now awaiting action from the other house of the legislature. Passage, however, drew sharp rebukes from the proposal’s opponents, according to The Baltimore Sun.
“Show me in the Constitution where it says that’s a qualification for being president of the United States,” said Democrat James Brochin, a senator from Baltimore County. “We can’t go along and make up rules when we don’t like the president of the United States.”
Senate Minority Whip Stephen Hershey said the bill was absurd.
“This is the most childish bill that I’ve ever seen and I’m embarrassed that it’s on the floor,” the Republican senator said.
If approved, the legislation would face an uncertain future in any court battle. Past court cases have shown that states are not likely to be successful in imposing conditions for federal officials to appear on the ballot in those states.
“I think a requirement of revealing one’s tax returns would be regarded as an additional qualification,” Michael McConnell, a professor at Stanford Law School, told the Associated Press.
“And then there’s the tax law problem, because federal law guarantees the confidentiality of tax returns. And I think that law would pre-empt any state law requiring someone to divulge their returns,” he said.
Another commentator said the bills are more of a political reaction than a legislative plan of action.
“I suspect that these bills will be very similar to the birth certificate legislation introduced after President Obama’s election — political statement bills that likely aren’t constitutionally sound or likely to be signed into law,” said Daniel Diorio, senior policy specialist at the National Conference of State Legislatures. “If one were to become law, I’m sure it would be challenged immediately.”
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