California Supreme Court Says State Can't Require Candidates’ Tax Returns to Appear on Ballot

A protester holds a sign at the 2017 Tax March, where participants called on President Trump to release his tax returns.

A protester holds a sign at the 2017 Tax March, where participants called on President Trump to release his tax returns. Shutterstock

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STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Pennsylvania governor vetoes Down syndrome abortion legislation … Protests in Oregon over pipeline project … Former Baltimore Mayor pleads guilty.

The California Supreme Court has struck down a state law passed earlier this year that would have required presidential candidates to release their federal tax returns in order to appear on the ballot. The law would have required candidates in the March 2020 primary and all subsequent elections to provide the last five years of their income tax returns. The move was aimed at forcing President Trump to release his tax returns, but the court ruled unanimously against the ballot eligibility change. Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said that while a “presidential candidate’s income tax returns could provide California voters with important information,” the law is “in conflict with the Constitution’s specification of an inclusive open presidential primary ballot” and “it is the voters who must decide whether the refusal of a candidate … to make such information available to the public will have consequences at the ballot box.” Jessica Millan Patterson, chairwoman of the California Republican Party, which brought the suit against the state, celebrated the decision. “Today’s ruling is a victory for every California voter. 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,” she said. Gov. Gavin Newsom objected to the framing that it would suppress voter turnout or keep anyone off the ballot when he signed the bill into law. Instead, he said that he was solidifying a precedent followed by candidates since 1967. “These are extraordinary times and states have a legal and moral duty to do everything in their power to ensure leaders seeking the highest offices meet minimal standards, and to restore public confidence. The disclosure required by this bill will shed light on conflicts of interest, self-dealing, or influence from domestic and foreign business interest,” he said. [Los Angeles Times; Forbes; North Coast Journal of Politics]

DOWN SYNDROME | Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed a bill that would have outlawed abortions based on a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome. The Republican-controlled legislature passed the bill after a similar attempt failed last year. Republican Sen. Scott Martin said that people with Down syndrome, a genetic abnormality that affects roughly one in every 700 babies, can still live full lives. “This is eugenics, this is not health care. These are parents who actually want to have children, who are presented as if this child will actually be a burden, who cannot live a productive life,” he said. Wolf vetoed the legislation the next day. “This bill masks yet another attempt to ban abortions and put politicians between a woman and her doctor. Physicians and their patients must be able to make choices about medical procedures based on best practices and standards of care," he said. Pennsylvania law allows abortions up to 24 weeks of pregnancy for any reason except if parents are trying to select a gender. If it had passed, the bill in Pennsylvania likely would have faced legal challenges, as federal courts have blocked similar laws in Arkansas, Indiana, Louisiana, Ohio, and Missouri. [WESA; News 12]

OREGON PROTEST | Hundreds of protestors sat in Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s office last week to demand she oppose a natural gas pipeline and marine export terminal in the state. The Jordan Cove Project, proposed by Pembina Pipeline Corporation of Canada, would allow the exportation of natural gas to Asia through a 230-mile pipeline from the Rockies and Canada to southern Oregon. Proponents of the project say it will bring in tax revenue for the state and for local governments. Protestors said that the pipeline would become the state’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gasses, worsening climate change consequences in the state. “It’s just a bad idea. It’s a continuation of the extraction industry where a few corporate billionaires get another millions, or billions. There’s nothing in it for people,” said protester Bernadette Bourassa. Brown told protestors that she wants to have a full hearing process for the project and would not support or oppose it before then. “I believe that Oregonians are best served by knowing that there is a fair process and that I’m not putting my finger on the scale one way or another. Because as you know, your community is quite divided on this issue,” she said. [Associated Press; Oregon Public Broadcasting]

BALTIMORE MAYOR | Former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh pleaded guilty last week to wire fraud conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud the government, and two counts of tax evasion in a case tied to sales of her children’s books. Pugh, a Democrat who resigned in May, could now face decades in prison when she is sentenced in February, but federal guidelines are likely to recommend around five years, U.S. Attorney Robert Hur told the Baltimore Sun, which first wrote about the book scheme. Pugh was indicted the day before her plea over sales of her self-published children’s books to health care companies and charities with the promise they would be donated to children, although many were never delivered. She made more than $800,000 from the sales, much of it from companies that had ties to the Baltimore government. Federal prosecutors said they plan to seize more than $700,000 and a house the former mayor purchased with proceeds from the book sales. [NPR; New York Times; Baltimore Sun]

KENTUCKY APPEAL | Kentucky Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton is appealing the ruling in a lawsuit she filed against Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration after the governor fired her two top staffers. Hampton, a Republican, argued that she had the right to hire and fire her staff, but a circuit judge ruled that Bevin had the ultimate authority. Bevin, a Republican who recently lost reelection to Democrat Andy Beshear, dropped Hampton from his ticket earlier this year. Hampton's attorney, Joshua Harp, said that they will still take the case to the Kentucky Court of Appeals. "We respectfully believe that [the] ruling was incorrect and we think it's an important issue that needs to be resolved by further appeal. While this is no longer going to impact her directly, it is an important question for her successors in that office," Harp said. Beshear said that his lieutenant governor, Jacqueline Coleman, will be a “full partner” with the ability to hire and fire her own staff. "Any administration is better off with a partnership that works and works well," he said. [Associated Press; WUKY]

Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.

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