LOS ANGELES — President Donald Trump does not have to disclose his tax returns to appear as a candidate on California’s primary ballot next spring, a unanimous state Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
The court said the law, the first of its kind in the nation and aimed squarely at Trump, was unconstitutional because it required disclosure of tax returns to qualify for the ballot.
“This additional requirement … is in conflict with the Constitution’s specification of an inclusive open presidential primary ballot,” Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye wrote in the 7-0 decision. “Ultimately, it is the voters who must decide whether the refusal of a ‘recognized candidate throughout the nation or throughout California for the office of President of the United States’ to make such information available to the public will have consequences at the ballot box.”
Trump has broken with tradition among presidential candidates by refusing to disclose his financial information.
A U.S. judge had temporarily blocked the state law in response to a different lawsuit. and the high court ruled quickly because the deadline to file tax returns for getting on the primary ballot is next week.
‘Today’s Ruling Is a Victory’
The state Republican Party and chairwoman Jessica Millan Patterson challenged the bill signed into law this year by Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom because it singled out Trump.
“Today’s ruling is a victory for every California voter,” Patterson said in a statement. “We are pleased that the courts saw through the Democrats’ petty partisan maneuvers and saw this law for what it is — an unconstitutional attempt to suppress Republican voter turnout.”
The state defended the law, saying release of tax returns was a simple way for voters to weight candidates’ financial status.
“When they passed the SB 27, Democrats proved they never let the Constitution get in the way of wasting taxpayer dollars or trying to silence those who disagree with them,” said Assemblyman Devon Mathis (R-Visalia). “Now that this nonsense is over with, it would be great to see Democrats focus on the actual problems facing Californians.”
The law would have required candidates for president or governor to file copies of personal income tax returns dating back five years. Refusal to do so would keep them off the state’s primary ballot, but not apply to general elections.
Skeptical justices at a hearing earlier this month questioned whether such a law could open the door to future requirements of medical and psychiatric records or school report cards.
Attorney Thomas Hiltachk argued for the state GOP that the law violated a 1972 voter-approved amendment guaranteeing that all recognized candidates must be on the ballot.
Other Courts Have Ordered Trump to Turn Over His Tax Returns
Republicans also said it would lower voter turnout in the primary, hurting Republican legislative and congressional candidates’ chances of reaching the general election.
Trump has cited an ongoing Internal Revenue Service audit in refusing to release his returns.
Other courts have ordered Trump to turn over his tax returns to a Manhattan grand jury and the House of Representatives for separate investigations.
The U.S. Supreme Court is weighing whether to intervene in the demand from a congressional committee or to let a lower appeals court ruling stand that would require disclosure of Trump’s taxes.
Trump has also asked the high court to block a subpoena from a New York prosecutor for his tax returns.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. is seeking the records in an investigation that includes alleged payments to buy the silence of adult film actress Stormy Daniels and Playboy centerfold Karen McDougal, both of whom claim they had affairs with the president before the 2016 presidential election. Trump has denied the allegations.