On September 19, a federal judge announced from the bench that he would enjoin enforcement of California’s law that requires presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns as a condition of securing ballot access in the presidential primary. He announced he would issue a written order by October 1, which he did (with a later amendment to that order October 2).
California announced it would appeal the ruling, but it has dragged its feet in doing so. The notice of appeal was filed October 8. The matter (five consolidated matters, really) was docketed before the Ninth Circuit on October 10. The clerk of the Ninth Circuit announced its briefing deadline, which extends as late as December 24 for the reply brief. Oral argument would likely be after that, and a ruling issued after that.
Presidential candidates who intend to secure ballot access must circulate petitions between November 4 and December 13. The California Secretary of State plans to announce all “generally recognized” presidential primary candidates, pursuant to the state constitution, by December 26.
California moved up its presidential primary to March 3, 2020, which means that it has this exceedingly early ballot access deadline. It has to print ballots to begin delivery to overseas and military voters on January 3, 2020.
There appears to be no urgency or movement to try to resolve this case ahead of the ballot access deadline, in which case the preliminary injunction would remain in effect for the 2020 primary. (Later events might change that, of course.)
To the extent this law is targeting President Donald Trump in particular, the law will have no effect on any effort to secure his tax returns—unless, I suppose, he lost the election in 2020 and ran again in the primaries in 2024, or the Twenty-Second Amendment was repealed to abolish presidential term limits.
It’s also reason why I focus on the broader portrait in Weaponizing the Ballot on states’ power over ballot access rules. Tax return disclosure requirements targeting Mr. Trump in particular may be the primary political lens through which we view the validity of such laws. But these laws, if enacted, would affect a far broader pool of candidates and extend far longer than the 2020 election. It’s worth reflecting upon that if the law is enjoined ahead of the 2020 primaries.