Election 2020

Federal Judge Says California Can't Force Trump To Release His Tax Returns in Exchange for Ballot Access

Written ruling says the state is violating the rights of voters as well as the presidential candidates.

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California cannot keep President Donald Trump, or any other presidential candidate, off the 2020 ballot for refusing to release his tax returns, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.

The ruling concerns Senate Bill 27 (SB27), the Presidential Tax and Transparency Act, which California's legislature passed in July and Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law. SB27 requires all candidates for president, in order to appear on the state's primary ballots, make the last five years of their income tax returns publicly available.

Trump's attorneys, representatives for the Republican National Committee, the state's Republican Party, and a small group of individual voters all sued, arguing that the act violates the First and 14th Amendments of the Constitution and is pre-empted by federal law regulating financial disclosures by presidential candidates.

On Tuesday, Morrison C. England Jr., U.S. District Judge of the Eastern District of California, agreed with Trump and the other plaintiffs and enjoined California from enforcing the part of the law that requires the disclosure of candidate tax records. England ordered a temporary injunction when he first heard the challenge back in September. Today's written ruling formally orders California to cease making these demands.

England agreed with every single argument the plaintiffs presented against California. He agreed that the plaintiffs were likely to win on the merits, as the U.S. Supreme Court has determined that the Constitution forbids states from making new eligibility requirements by "dressing eligibility to stand for [public office] in ballot access clothing." He also agreed that SB27 was preempted by the federal Ethics in Government Act, which outlines what candidates for president must publicly disclose.

He further explains that the Act thwarts the will of California voters, violating their First Amendment rights:

"Here, the Act creates what amounts to a functional bar against the ability to cast an effective vote for a candidate who elects not to disclose his or her tax returns. It further interferes with the ability of both individuals and political parties to select the individual presidential candidate of their choice to act as the 'standard bearer who best represents [their] ideologies and preferences. … These are severe restrictions, since limitations on ballot access can violate multiple constitutionally-protected interests, including the right to associate for political purposes, the right to vote, and the right to express political preferences.'"

Essentially, England is saying that if the voters support a candidate who does not want to release his or her tax returns, that's their right and California can't stop them.

Lawmakers tried to pass the bill under previous Gov. Jerry Brown, who vetoed it as likely unconstitutional and worried that it would result in a slippery slope. England even quotes Brown's veto message in the ruling:

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?

England adds his own concerns:

The list of allegedly "relevant" information required to obtain ballot access could therefore snowball out of control with no practical limitation as legislatures throughout the nation could impose their own qualifications on presidential candidates, perhaps for nakedly political purposes. That result cannot possibly comport with the Framers' goal for a fixed and nationwide standard for such federal offices.

The short-sighted stupidity of this law should be readily apparent to even the most casual observer, even if we were to set aside the severe constitutional issues with it. For instance, why wouldn't a state with a Republican legislature retaliate in a way that made it harder for Democratic presidential candidates to qualify for ballot access?

CNN notes that Democratic California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is likely to appeal the ruling. He really should read the whole thing, accept this law is doomed, and not waste any more taxpayer money. England does not give one single inch to any of California's arguments in the ruling and even points out that it's actually not true that every presidential candidate has historically released his taxes. Brown himself did not disclose his tax returns when he ran for president in 1992. Nor did Ross Perot. Nor did Ralph Nader in 2000.

It is a dumb, unconstitutional law, and to continue to defend it weakens the argument that Trump is a unique threat to Democratic and constitutional governance. There's nothing Democratic nor constitutional about trying to gin up reasons to keep a candidate from an opposing political party off the ballot.

Read the ruling for yourself here.

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  1. Good ruling. However, Trump still needs to make good on his promises and release his tax returns.

    1. The voters determine what Trump needs to do.

      1. Well, Trump voters tend to be less intelligent and more emotional than non Trump voters, and he famously quipped that he could get away with shooting someone on 5th Ave and not lose a vote, so I think you are on to something. https://psmag.com/news/trumps-appeal-to-the-cognitively-challenged

        He promised many times he would release them. Why do you think he reneged?

        1. So long as Trump sticks with the bigotry, his supporters will excuse failures to keep promises (or lies).

          For clingers, bigotry and slack-jawed backwardness are trump. And Trump is their desperate, last gasp, a middle finger to an America that has moved away from them (more diverse, less superstitious, less rural, less intolerant, etc.).

          1. And RAK chimes in, again proving that despite all his accusations of bigotry, he is far and away the most bigoted commentor in these threads.

            1. Forget bigotry, that slack-jawed yokel couldn’t come up with an original post if the cops threatened to shoot his dog.

            2. You’re right. The guy calling Mexicans rapists and killers is the non bigoted one. Racial scapegoating and populist leaders of personality cults have absolutely no historical context together.

              1. Oh, won’t anyone think of the pearls!

                1. I was going to clutch mine, but as I recall, they are from the South China Sea ant therefore may be subject to those deadly tariffs.

          2. ” middle finger to an America that has moved away from them (more diverse, less superstitious, less rural, less intolerant, etc.).”

            They’re like half of the country and they have voting power. I think they’re fine.

        2. Because Maddow already did it for him.

        3. more emotional than non Trump voters,

          Really? I say that everyone has a bad case of the feelz these days. Or has Maddow stopped crying yet?

        4. Well, Trump voters tend to be less intelligent and more emotional than non Trump voters,

          You’re… kidding, right?

          1. I left a link to a peer reviewed study, if you are interested.

            1. peer reviewed study

              trumps-appeal-to-the-cognitively-challenged

        5. >>tend to be less intelligent and more emotional than

          dude. no.

        6. “Cognitive ability and party identity: No important differences between Democrats and Republicans”

          https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0160289616300277

          It’s the same guy. Reaching two different conclusions. With the same tests. On the same subject.

          Which leads one to conclude that it isn’t Cognitive ability but some other factors at play.

          But you roll with that debunked study Jeff. What’s that? Debunked?

            1. You are scientifically illiterate.

              A study of Brazilians which finds a correlation between high intelligence and centrality of political opinion is not a debunking of another study finding Trump voters less intelligent than non trump voters.

            2. “Fuck you. Choke on the debunking”

              This is too good. Are you a parody account? Thanks for demonstrating the high emotions and low intelligence that goes along with Trump support.

          1. May I suggest that republicans in 2014 were smarter than Trump supporters in 2016? You realize those are two different studies and are not directly comparable? The guy certainly didn’t go back in time to “debunk” his later study.

          2. Or that party identity isn’t the same as support specifically for Trump?

        7. How cute. The retard doesn’t understand about the reproduction crisis of social science per reviewed papers. Did you read the study or just the reporters interpretation? Nevermind. You’re fucking retarded. I know the answer.

    2. LOL – yeah, no, “Trump” and “promises” don’t even belong in the same sentence. Trump lies like he breathes and his “promise” to release his tax returns after the IRS was done auditing them was more of Trump’s famous “dry wit” we hear so much about whenever he says something outrageous and we’re assured he was speaking sarcastically or jokingly or whatever.

      I have heard, however, that Trump has shown his tax returns to the housekeeping staff at Mar-A-Lago, in private Trump is a totally different person than he appears to be in public. Humble, polite, soft-spoken, deferential, self-deprecating, etc. A veritable Saint Francis of Assisi, he is. But only when no one can see him.

    3. I’m prepared to wait on that one while he is getting to the higher-priority promises, like finishing the wall, getting us out of global military adventures, and spanking Adam Schiff (OK, I made up the last one).

  2. Typical statist legislation, though. I’m kinda surprised neither party has tried this before, but maybe it was so silly pre-Trump that no one bothered to report on it.

    1. He’s one of the few candidates with a complex tax return. What would be gained by seeing it?

      1. “Wow! And I thought *my* return was complex! It’s time to fix the broken tax code, for sure!”

        1. Democratic simplified tax return –

          Line 1: How much did you make last year?
          Line two: How much tax have we already deducted?
          Line 3: Subtract line from line 1.
          Line 4: Remit the amount on line 3.

          1. Democratic Socialist tax return:

            Line 1: How much post-tax take-home pay did you have last year?
            Line 2: Send it to us.
            Line 3: Who was the traitor who let you have it?

  3. There’s nothing Democratic nor constitutional about trying to gin up reasons to keep a candidate from an opposing political party off the ballot.

    I think you meant to say “There’s nothing democratic nor constitutional….” because to suggest that this is something the Democrats would not do when it is in fact precisely what the Democrats are doing is just a bit bizarre.

    1. Normally, I’d give Scott the benefit of the doubt here and assume that what he meant was small-d democratic. But Scott capitalized Democratic, so that… yeah, that suggests to me that he means that Democrats are normally the good guys and this isn’t a good-guy move.

  4. “He really should read the whole thing, accept this law is doomed, and not waste any more taxpayer money.”

    Not holding my breath.

  5. So how do they get away with making the payment of a money a condition to appear on the ballot?

    1. Fees to cover expenses. I bet they’re not high enough to upset any court.

      1. Yeah I can see that. Makes sense. Now that I give it more thought I don’t want govt placing conditions on who we can vote for.

    2. How do the Democrats get away with forcing their candidates to have X thousand donors to get into their debates? It’s like a poll tax, from the party that won’t even accept common sense voter ID laws.

      1. The DNC also requires presidential candidates to pay a fee for access to the voter/donor lists. In 2016, the RNC provided that for free.

        Guess which one is perpetually in financial trouble?

      2. Debates are not constitutionally-mandated activities. But you knew that already.

        1. Bread and circuses are not constitutionally-mandated activities. But you knew that already.

    3. Isn’t Texas currently considering changing their ballot-eligibility laws to allow 3rd parties easier access if they’re willing to pay a fee?

    4. Having low, limited fees discourages people from clogging the ballot with jokes/parodies/etc. which ultimately enhances peoples’ ability to exercise their voting rights – that’s the argument, in a nutshell. I personally think that being able to elevate more intentional jokes and parodies over the current jokes and parodies holding office might be a net gain, but I’ll concede I don’t think there’s a constitutional encumbrance provided the fees are kept very low.

  6. Today we require tax returns, but what would be next? Five years of health records? A certified birth certificate? High school report cards?”

    Demonstrated ability to stand on one’s head for three minutes while holding one’s breath!

    1. “Today we require tax returns, but what would be next? Five years of health records? A certified birth certificate? High school report cards?”

      Objection, your honor. Speculative, irrelevant, and assumes facts not in evidence.

      1. Yeah, I’m often frustrated by the fact that people invoke the slippery slope fallacy against arguments like this, but I’m like: look, when you’re talking about government, the slippery slope is a real and objectively verifiable historical fact.

  7. Historical quibble: the judge is taking the names of the founders in vain:
    >That result cannot possibly comport with the Framers’ goal for a
    >fixed and nationwide standard for such federal offices.

    Actually, the Framers (of the US Constitution) specifically empowered individual States (rather than their inhabitants) to choose their Presidential electors by whatever method their individual legislatures specified:

    Article II, Section 1:
    >Each state shall appoint, in such manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a number of electors, equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress:

    If the California legislature specified that their 55 electors should be the 55 most senior members of the Berkeley Young Communist League, that would meet the will of the Framers.

    1. good point. the tax returns of the candidate are irrelevant then, since the Electors are the ones we vote for.

      1. Sort of undercuts their whole “popular vote” law as well.

        Does anyone seriously think that, should Trump actually win the popular vote, that California wouldn’t immediately pull a “just kidding, this law is unconstitutional!” line and tell their electors to all vote for the Democrat?

    2. Umm…agreed that CA legislature may be able to select whatever electors it chooses, but not much about who is eligible to be placed on the ballot.

    3. If the California legislature specified that their 55 electors should be the 55 most senior members of the Berkeley Young Communist League, that would meet the will of the Framers.

      haven’t they already?

  8. Especially compelling a candidate to make public confidential personal records. It is not a good precedent that government officials think they have a right to acces such records outside of their legal purposes.

    1. and Social Security numbers should be between the individual taxpayer and the Social Security Administration. there should be a federal law banning them for ID purposes.

      1. We’re only going to stop using Social Security Numbers for ID purposes when we get a National ID.

        So if that’s what you want, then beat that dead horse already.

        1. “”We’re only going to stop using Social Security Numbers for ID purposes when we get a National ID.””

          I think the Real ID is basically a national ID issued at state level.

            1. When my license renewal came in the mail it was showing some pictures of examples. One had the word Veteran across the middle in big letters. Kind of translucent so you could see everything else. I thought it was cool so I took my DD-214 down. Ends up, Veteran is in small letters in the upper left corner. Oh well.

        2. Then we already have a national ID.

  9. “Here, the Act creates what amounts to a functional bar against the ability to cast an effective vote for a candidate who elects not to disclose his or her tax returns. It further interferes with the ability of both individuals and political parties to select the individual presidential candidate of their choice to act as the ‘standard bearer who best represents [their] ideologies and preferences. … These are severe restrictions”

    So replace ‘elects not to disclose their tax returns’ with ‘elects to run for another term’ and explain term limits to me again.

    1. Not sure what you think needs explaining. Term limits are also unconstitutional. U.S. Term Limits v. Thornton (1995)

      The only reason presidential term limits are allowed is because they were enacted through constitutional amendment. (#22)


  10. There’s nothing Democratic nor constitutional about trying to gin up reasons to keep a candidate from an opposing political party off the ballot.

    Please note California already effectively ended the two-party system which is why you frequently see two Democrats as the only two people on the ballot. All they’re trying to do is extend that to Presidential elections as well.

    1. This is also tied into the National Popular Vote Compact.

      Commifornia wants to make rules last minute to exclude non-Lefty candidates from the ballot so non-Lefty voters still in that shithole state cannot wreck the National Popular vote tally.

  11. Tax returns should be between the individual and the IRS. If candidates don’t want to disclose them, voters can vote with that in mind. It didn’t stop Trump from winning last time.

  12. For instance, why wouldn’t a state with a Republican legislature retaliate in a way that made it harder for Democratic presidential candidates to qualify for ballot access?

    I’m sure they would.

    That said, if the only condition is disclosure, I’m not sure I care. A presidential candidate is being interviewed for the highest office in the nation. Full and complete transparency doesn’t seem like too high a bar to me.

    1. In which EscherEnigma makes the case for mandatory health records disclosure.

      Of course, in either case a constitutional amendment would be required for such a move. The requirements for a hopeful President are well known, and a very low bar.

    2. Hey, if you’ve got nothing to hide, just tell us everything. Are you some kind of criminal?

  13. Article II, Section 1: No person except a natural born citizen, or a citizen of the United States, at the time of the adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the office of President; neither shall any person be eligible to that office who shall not have attained to the age of thirty five years, and been fourteen Years a resident within the United States.

    Only qualifications required to be President.

    Article I, Section 4.
    The times, places and manner of holding elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by law make or alter such regulations, except as to the places of choosing Senators.

    Congress also gets a say in how Congressional elections go.

  14. This is a terrible decision!
    No one has a right to privacy in a socialist slave state…except for the proggies of course.
    But that’s different.
    They’re the ones who took the time and trouble to establish our beloved socialist slave state in the first place, so only they should be given the right to privacy.

  15. The only way Becerra will stop is if he’s disbarred and sent to Mexico.

  16. “”Federal Judge Says California Can’t Force Trump To Release His Tax Returns in Exchange for Ballot Access””

    Is this what winning looks like?

  17. repeal the goddam 16th …

  18. OMG, what a waste of protoplasm Becerra is.

    1. That’s not really fair. His molecules may contribute to something, someday.

  19. I never thought I’d say this but when compared to Newsom, I miss Jerry Brown as a voice of reason and moderation.

    1. Yeah, I mean, I read that quote from him there and I was like “yeah, man, that’s pretty much exactly the problem” and then I was in the strange situation of thinking that Gov. Jerry Brown was apparently a man who considered the implications of the legislation that came across his desk . . .

  20. Does this mean we won’t ever see Gavin’s tax returns? Oh right, he isn’t running for prez – yet.

  21. Do we now have a split in the circuits, with the decision on Howard Stern from NY?

  22. Even if all others had released tax returns there is no requirement to do so. He is in compliance. I’m not in favor of them being released as they are already audited and even a President should have some privacy. However if congress wants to pass a law make sure it applies to Congress and Senate as well.

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