A federal judge granted an injunction on Tuesday blocking a California law that would require presidential candidates to release their tax returns in order to appear on the state’s ballots.
California Governor Gavin Newsom signed the Presidential Tax Transparency and Accountability Act into law in July after passage by over two-thirds majority of the legislature. The Act, among other things, prevents the California Secretary of State from printing the name of any presidential candidate on a primary election ballot unless that candidate has provided their prior five years of tax returns to the Secretary.
On August 6 President Donald Trump filed a complaint alleging the Act “adds an unconstitutional qualification to the fixed set of qualifications for the presidency in the Constitution.” The president soon after filed the motion for injunction, shortly before the case was consolidated with four others similarly alleging the unconstitutionality of the Act.
US District Court Judge Morrison England Jr., of the Eastern District of California, ultimately shut down the state’s argument that the law implemented a permissible “times, places and manner” requirement under the Elections Clause.
The Elections Clause imposes three eligibility requirements for presidential candidates. First, a candidate must be a “natural born citizen.” Second, a candidate must be at least 35 years old. Third, a candidates must have lived in the US for at least 14 years.
England’s opinion cites to case law in determining that the grant of power to states under the Elections Clause “encompasses matters like ‘notices, registration, supervision of voting, protection of voters, prevention of fraud and corrupt practices, counting of votes, duties of inspectors and canvassers, and making and publication of election returns'” and “does none of those things.” Therefore, “the Act seeks to punish a class of candidates who elect not to comply with disclosing their tax returns by handicapping their access to the electoral process.”
England was cautious, noting:
in this day and age of partisan politics, evaluating the constitutionality of the Act is one of the most non-partisan questions of which the Court can conceive. At oral argument, there were repeated references to this being a “Republican” issue, but the protections afforded by the Qualifications Clause extend to all candidates irrespective of their political affiliation. While this case concerns a law passed by a Democratic majority in the California Legislature, and while it fundamentally targets a Republican presidential candidate, in a different political climate or a different state the roles and putative requirements could easily be reversed.
“California will appeal this ruling and we will continue to make our thorough, thoughtful argument for stronger financial disclosure requirements for presidential and gubernatorial candidates,” California Secretary of State, Alex Padilla said in a statement.
A similar bill was introduced in the US House earlier this year. However, no action has been reported since its referral to the Ways and Means Committee.