How desperate is California to get Donald Trump’s tax returns? Desperate enough to pass a law even former Gov. Jerry Brown thought was unconstitutional — and which almost certainly won’t get the returns, anyway.
According to The Hill, the law is called S.B. 27. It was signed by California Gov. Gavin Newsom last week. The basic gist of S.B. 27, titled the Presidential Tax Transparency and Accountability Act, is that presidential candidates are required to disclose five years worth of tax returns in order to appear on the state’s primary ballot.
You can naturally guess who this is aimed at, given the fact that President Trump says he won’t release his tax returns while they’re under audit. You can also guess that there are slight, ahem, constitutional issues with this — which is why a few California voters, with the help of one of the nation’s biggest conservative watchdog groups, are suing to prevent it from taking effect.
On Monday, Judicial Watch announced in a statement “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.”
JW announced it filed a fed lawsuit to prevent the CA SecState from implementing a new state law requiring all presidential candidates who wish to appear on CA’s primary ballot to publicly disclose their personal tax returns from the past 5 years (1/3). https://t.co/VOnE7PrRiR
— Judicial Watch 🔎 (@JudicialWatch) August 5, 2019
“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.”
The suit claims that the law “imposes candidate qualifications beyond those allowed by the U.S. Constitution and impermissibly burdens a voters’ expressive constitutional and statutory rights.”
The suit alleges that S.B. 27 violates a pretty hefty swath of Constitution. There’s the Qualifications Clause, which describes what the qualifications for an individual to be president are. (Nothing in there about tax returns, obviously.) There’s also the First and 14th Amendment rights of candidates, as well as a few other federal statutes in the mix.
“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 statement.
“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.”
But don’t believe Fitton about the law’s problematic nature. After all, he’s clearly a creature of the right. Believe a man who is somehow a voice of reason in this mess, former Gov. Jerry “Governor Moonbeam” Brown.
During the 2017-2018 legislative session, then-Gov. Brown vetoed a similar bill, arguing that it wasn’t just illegal but opened the door to a whole host of other potentially problematic demands on candidates
“First, it may not be constitutional,” Brown said. “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.”
If you needed any evidence about how far down the wrong road California is heading, consider the fact that Jerry Brown now sounds like a soul of restraint.
If you want to get Trump’s tax returns, it’s a bit late for that. However, it’s clear who inspired the law. If it goes into effect, Judicial Watch warns in the lawsuit, “states will assume the power to create their own qualifications for national candidates seeking to obtain a party’s nomination for president.”
That’s a lot more dangerous than it sounds, Judicial Watch warns.
“This could lead to as many as 50 distinct and possibly inconsistent sets of qualifications regarding the only national election in the United States,” the lawsuit reads.
“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 stands by the constitutionality of S.B. 27.
“SB 27, which requires that presidential candidates disclose tax returns, is constitutional. It does not keep any candidate from being on the ballot so long as he or she complies with a simple requirement that is meant to provide California voters crucial information,” Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California, Berkeley School of Law, said in a press release put out by Gov. Newsom’s office.
“This is the state acting to make sure that its voters have information that might be very important to them when they cast their ballots as to who they want to be president of the United States.”
Right. Like those Facebook friends lists or medical records.
This is a law that manages to be both dangerous and dumb at the same time. President Trump’s tax returns, even if they were able to be obtained via S.B. 27, would almost certainly be as anticlimactic as the Mueller report. Just ask Rachel Maddow.
However, this could open the door to a nationwide patchwork of nonsense demands on qualified candidates that violate their constitutional rights. If there’s any sense left in our judiciary (always an open question), this will be enjoined at the earliest possible opportunity.
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