A state can no more limit eligibility to candidates who disclose tax returns than it could require that only candidates who can run a mile in under 8 minutes are eligible for the presidential ballot.
California passed a law requiring that presidential candidates disclose their tax returns in order to appear on the ballot. This is just the latest tactic various Democrat-controlled states are considering to force Trump to release his tax returns.
It’s also clearly unconstitutional. While states have control over the mechanics of voting, such as filing petitions with a certain number of signatures, they can’t impose eligibility requirements beyond what Article II, Section 1, Clause 5 of the Constitution provides (emphasis added):
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.
A tax-return requirement on presidential candidates bears no relationship to the mechanics of voting, and is an unconstitutional eligibility test. A state can no more limit eligibility to candidates who disclose tax returns than it could require that only candidates who can run a mile in under 8 minutes are eligible for the presidential ballot.
After California imposed such a requirement, four California residents filed a Complaint seeking injunctive and declaratory relief. The plaintiffs were represented by Judicial Watch. The Complaint alleged, in part:
1. Plaintiffs are four California registered voters who seek declaratory and injunctive relief to enjoin California’s Presidential Tax Transparency and Accountability Act, S. Bill 27, 2019-2020 Reg. Sess. (Ca. 2019) (hereafter “SB 27”). This law requires all candidates who wish to participate in a California presidential primary to publicly disclose their tax returns for the past five years. Candidates who do not comply are barred from having their names printed on California’s primary ballots. Plaintiffs allege that SB 27 imposes candidate qualifications beyond those allowed by the U.S. Constitution and impermissibly burdens their federal constitutional and statutory rights.
* * *
53. SB 27 purports to add candidate qualifications to those contained in the Qualifications Clause.
54. The State of California does not have the lawful authority to impose, nor does its Secretary of State have the lawful authority to enforce, candidate qualifications beyond those contained in the Qualifications Clause.
55. SB 27 has the effect of handicapping a class of candidates who choose not to supply their tax returns.
56. SB 27 has the sole purpose of indirectly adding additional qualifications to those set forth in the Qualifications Clause.
Trump also filed a Complaint as did others, and they were consolidated with the Judicial Watch case
At a hearing today, the court granted a Temporary Restraining Order from the bench. The L.A. Times reports:
U.S. District Judge Morrison England Jr. said he would issue a final ruling by the end of the month but took the unusual step of issuing the tentative order from the bench. He said there would be “irreparable harm without temporary relief” for Trump and other candidates from the law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in July.
England spent much of the court proceeding on the question of whether a longstanding federal financial disclosure law preempts any additional rules that a state could impose. The federal law, known as the Ethics In Government Act, or EIGA, was originally passed in 1978 and applies to a range of top federal officials. Trump has filed the annual report, most recently in May, which provides an overview of his finances.
“Do we even need to get here if EIGA preempts [the new California law]?,” England asked attorneys for the state. “Is that it?”
Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton issued the following statement on the ruling:
California politicians, in their zeal to attack President Trump, passed a law that also unconstitutionally victimizes California voters and the Constitution. A federal court seems to agree and granted our request for a preliminary injunction that stops this scheme from interfering with the 2020 elections.
Under the law, known as the Presidential Tax Transparency and Accountability Act, candidates who do not publicly disclose their tax returns for the past five years were barred from having their names printed on California’s primary ballots. In its lawsuit challenging the requirement on behalf of four California voters—two Republicans, a Democrat, and an Independent—Judicial Watch argued that SB 27 imposes candidate qualifications beyond those allowed by the U.S. Constitution and impermissibly burdens a voters’ expressive constitutional and statutory rights. The lawsuit claims violations of the U.S. Constitution’s Qualifications Clause, the First and Fourteenth Amendments, and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 1988 (Jerry Griffin et al. v. Alex Padilla (No. 2:19-cv-01477)).
Senior Attorney Russ Nobile presented arguments today on behalf of Judicial Watch.