In a unanimous decision issued Thursday, the California Supreme Court ruled that a new California law requiring Presidential candidates turn over five years worth of tax returns for access to the March 3 primary ballot is unconstitutional.
In a decision penned by state Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakuye, the Court issued a writ of mandate prohibiting Secretary of State Alex Padilla from enforcing the law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom at the end of the legislative session this fall.
Cantil-Sakuye wrote that the now-invalidated law conflicted with key provisions of Article II of the California Constitution mandating that the Secretary of State provide ballot access to “recognized candidates throughout the nation or throughout California” for the Presidency.
“The statutory prerequisite, if not complied with, would exclude from the ballot even someone who is actively seeking the presidential nomination of a political party that participates in the primary election, and is widely regarded as a leading contender for that nomination,” the Chief Justice wrote of the tax return requirement. “[P]recisely the sort of presidential candidate that article II, section 5(c) specifies must appear on the ballot…”
She added that the Legislature’s role in shaping partisan elections is similarly limited by the state’s Constitution.
“Whatever the Legislature’s authority may be to define ground rules for presidential primary elections, article II, section 5(c) also includes a requirement of an inclusive ballot that such legislation must respect and embrace,” Cantil-Sakuye wrote.
California Republican Party chair Jessica Millan Patterson, the lead plaintiff in the case, declared victory following the Court’s ruling.
“Today’s ruling is a victory for every California voter,” Patterson said in a statement. “This unanimous decision solidifies the California State Constitutional provisions to place candidates on the ballot, and the important fact that the legislature may not place additional restrictions on those requirements.”
“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.”
Patterson and Republicans have waged a multi-front battle against State officials over the law in state courts – resulting in Thursday’s decision – and Federal court to quickly invalidate the law.
Legislative watchers largely agree the bill was a targeted measure at President Donald Trump, who declined to release his tax returns in 2016.
Republicans, both in and out of court proceedings, argued that excluding Trump from the 2020 primary would serve to suppress Republican voters.