A federal court in California issued its order (PDF) after enjoining California’s tax disclosure requirement for presidential candidates. Earlier, I noted the court suggested that California’s statute was preempted by the Ethics in Government Act. The court did make that finding. But the court also found it unconstitutional on three other bases.
First, the statute runs afoul of the Elections Clause, meaning California lacked the power to add this rule as a condition of ballot access. (This is the argument I make in Weaponizing the Ballot.) It relies on Term Limits v. Thornton and Cook v. Gralike, in addition to a Ninth Circuit opinion Schaefer v. Townsend that struck down a voter registration requirement as a condition of ballot access.
Second, the court concluded it burdened the associational interests of candidates, voters, and political parties under the First Amendment. The court concluded the burden was “severe” because it was a “functional bar” on candidates who refused to disclose tax returns, a “severe” burden that the state failed to justify.
Third, the court held that it violated the Equal Protection Clause by “distinguishing among constitutionally eligible candidates,”—that’s because general-election independent candidates would not need to disclose their tax returns, but primary candidates would.
In short, the court found four separate reasons why the law failed. We’ll see what happens as this case proceeds to the Ninth Circuit—given that time is precious as the ballot petition period begins in a matter of weeks, and given that the California Supreme Court is considering an independent challenge, we’ll see what choices the parties and the courts make moving forward.