In a major setback for California Democrats, a federal judge ruled in favor of the Trump campaign on Thursday regarding an attempt to keep the duly elected President of the United States off the state’s 2020 primary ballot if he doesn’t hand over five years of tax returns by November 26.
In July, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill in part designed to force Trump to disclose his tax returns, which Democrats have been clamoring to get a hold of for years. The law, Senate Bill 27, requires all primary candidates to submit their most recent five years of tax returns by the November deadline to appear on the ballot; the law does not apply to the general election. The “Presidential Tax Transparency and Accountability Act” reads in part:
This bill would enact the Presidential Tax Transparency and Accountability Act, which would require a candidate for President, in order to have the candidate’s name placed upon a primary election ballot, to file the candidate’s income tax returns for the 5 most recent taxable years with the Secretary of State, as specified. The act would require the Secretary of State, within 5 days of receiving the returns, to make redacted versions of the returns available to the public on the Secretary of State’s internet website. This bill would impose the same requirements on candidates for Governor.
In response, Trump’s legal team filed a lawsuit in August arguing that SB 27 was unconstitutional by adding additional requirements for presidential candidates and potentially violating voters’ First Amendment rights. Opponents also argue that the law would likely result in suppressed Republican turnout.
U.S. District Judge Morrison England Jr., a George W. Bush appointee, sided with Trump on Thursday. While England said he would issue his final ruling by the end of the month, his actions signaled that the final decision would likely end up favorable to team Trump.
As reported by the Los Angeles Times, England “took the unusual step of issuing the tentative order from the bench.” After hearing consolidated arguments made in five separate lawsuits filed in response to the bill, Trump’s among them, England issued the junction, explaining that the law would cause “irreparable harm” for Trump and other candidates if he did not provide “temporary relief.” He also suggested that allowing the states to add various additional criteria to appear on the ballot might “create a hodgepodge of laws around the country.”
In a statement Thursday, Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow said their camp was “encouraged” by the injunction and again stressed that they believe the law is “unconstitutional.”
“We are encouraged that the federal court has tentatively concluded that a preliminary injunction should be granted. We look forward to the court’s written order,” Sekulow said in a statement reported by The Hill. “It remains our position that the law is unconstitutional because states are not permitted to add additional requirements for candidates for president, and that the law violated citizens’ First Amendment right of association.”
The author of the bill, State Sen. Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg), said Judge Morrison “got this one wrong.”
“Transparency is the foundation of accountability,” he said in comments reported by the Times. “This issue of releasing tax returns is bigger than any one candidate or any one president.”
The Times notes that “California elections officials confirmed Thursday that no presidential candidates have submitted tax returns yet to comply with the new law.”