California high court strikes down state law targeting Trump tax returns

California’s highest state court on Thursday struck down a law that would have required President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday Democrats worried by Jeremy Corbyn's UK rise amid anti-Semitism Warren, Buttigieg duke it out in sprint to 2020 MORE to hand over his tax returns as a condition to appearing on the state’s ballot for the Republican primary.

In a unanimous ruling, the California Supreme Court held that key portions of the Presidential Tax Transparency and Accountability Act, signed in July, violated the state’s constitution.

The law also requires gubernatorial candidates to disclose their tax returns for ballot access, but the California justices did not address that portion of the law. 

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The ruling comes ahead of the Nov. 26 deadline by which candidates would have needed to disclose their tax returns in order to appear on the state's March presidential primary ballot.

In its ruling, the California Supreme Court sided with the California Republican Party over California Secretary of State Alex Padilla (D). 

The court argued that the law creates an additional requirement that is in conflict with the state constitution's "specification of an inclusive open presidential primary ballot." 

"The Legislature may well be correct that a presidential candidate’s income tax returns could provide California voters with important information," the court said in its ruling. "But article II, section 5(c) embeds in the state Constitution the principle that, 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."

Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye authored the opinion of the court, which was joined by the other six justices. One justice, Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar, also filed a concurring opinion.

Several lawsuits have also been filed against the California law in federal court. Last month, a federal district court judge in California granted a preliminary injunction against the law. Padilla has appealed that ruling to the federal Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. 

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Requiring candidates to disclose their tax returns to appear on the ballot had been a controversial idea well before Gov. Gavin NewsomGavin Christopher NewsomPG&E announces .5B settlement for Northern California wildfires Newsom jokes after Harris drops 2020 bid ahead of his Iowa campaign events for her: 'I want a reimbursement!' Feinstein endorses Christy Smith for Katie Hill's former House seat MORE (D) signed the act into law this year. His predecessor, former Gov. Jerry Brown (D) vetoed the bill during his tenure.

“While we are disappointed in today's ruling, the movement for greater transparency will endure. The history of our democracy is on the side of more transparency, not less," Padilla, the California secretary of state, said in a statement.

Republican state legislators, though, applauded the decision.

"Republicans have repeatedly voiced our position that the Democrats' Presidential Disclosure law is unconstitutional and an attempt to tamper with the Presidential primary by suppressing Republican voter turn-out," said state Senate Republican Leader Shannon Grove. "Today, the justices of the State Supreme Court validated our concerns and sided with us."

The legal fight over the California law is one of many involving Trump as he fights to keep his financial records private.

Two others cases are now before the Supreme Court, which will decide whether to take them up. Trump has appealed court rulings allowing the House Oversight and Reform Committee to subpoena his financial records as well as a ruling allowing New York City prosecutors to enforce a separate subpoena for his records.

Updated at 4:44 p.m.