California court: Trump doesn’t need tax returns to be on ballot
SAN FRANCISCO — For years, Democrats have tried to force President Donald Trump to disclose his tax returns, and Trump has resisted. The California Legislature, aiming at the president, passed a law this year to try to force Trump’s hand.
On a party-line vote, lawmakers approved a bill to require presidential candidates to disclose five years of tax returns in order to appear on the state’s primary ballot, the first such law in the nation.
It did not survive even six months.
California’s highest court decided Thursday that the Legislature went too far. Though legislators and analysts considered early on whether the requirement might conflict with federal law, the California Supreme Court determined it was the state’s own Constitution that barred such a condition.
Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye, writing for the court, said the Legislature lacked the authority to create the “unenforceable” requirement. The decision by the seven-member court — which now has a majority of Democrat-appointed justices — was unanimous.
The case was the latest clash between Trump and California. The state has gone to court to challenge the president repeatedly on abortion rights, immigration and other matters, and Trump, in turn, has sued the state and tried to prevent it from enacting laws that counter his policies.
His victory Thursday, in a challenge brought by the state Republican Party and its chairwoman, was decisive. California’s top court has the final say on matters of state law.
“The Legislature may well be correct that a presidential candidate’s income tax returns could provide California voters with important information,” Cantil-Sakauye wrote.
But because the state Constitution requires inclusive, open presidential primary elections, Trump may withhold his returns and voters will have to decide whether the lack of disclosure has “consequences at the ballot box,” she wrote.
During a hearing this month, Cantil-Sakauye noted that legislators and analysts working on the bill apparently failed to even consider the section of the state Constitution that makes the primary ballot accessible to all “recognized” presidential candidates.
Republican leaders were jubilant. They denounced Democrats for failing to address “real issues” such as power shutdowns, homelessness and the lack of affordable housing and for instead pursuing “bad legislation.”
The requirement overturned Thursday “interferes with our elections, is unconstitutional, a waste of taxpayer money, and a direct attack on democracy,” said state Senate Minority Leader Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield.
Democrats remained defiant. Jesse Melgar, a spokesman for Gov. Gavin Newsom, who signed the bill into law, said California would “continue to fight against the self-dealing, conflicts of interest and blatant corruption that have pervaded the Trump presidency.”
Even though California’s effort to force Trump’s disclosure has failed, “Congress and other states can and should take action to require presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns,” Melgar said.
The law would have required all presidential primary candidates to submit their income tax filings by Tuesday to secure a spot on California’s March 3 presidential primary ballot. State election officials were required to post the financial documents online, with certain private information redacted.