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California’s Supreme Court strikes down state law requiring Trump to release tax returns to appear on the ballot

'It is the voters who must decide'

MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

A California law that would have required presidential candidates — including President Donald Trump — to release their personal tax records in order to qualify to appear on the state's 2020 primary ballot was struck down by the state's supreme court on Thursday.

In a unanimous ruling, the seven justices of state's high court found that the Presidential Tax Transparency and Accountability Act was in violation with the terms for presidential elections set forward by the State's constitution.

"The Legislature may well be correct that a presidential candidate's income tax returns could provide California voters with important information," the majority ruling, which was authored by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, said. "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."

For reference, the relevant section of the Golden State's constitution stipulates that legislators have to provide for "an open presidential primary whereby the candidates on the ballot are those found by the Secretary of State to be recognized candidates throughout the nation or throughout California for the office of President of the United States, and those whose names are placed on the ballot by petition, but excluding any candidate who has withdrawn by filing an affidavit of noncandidacy."

The California law — which requires that candidates turn over five years' worth of records — was passed back in July and signed into law by Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom's later that month. At the time of its signing, Newsom said that the state had "a special responsibility to require this information of presidential and gubernatorial candidates" and that "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 law was blocked by a federal judge's injunction last month as part of a separate case.

President Trump's refusal to release his tax information during the 2016 presidential campaign and after taking office as president has been been a major source of criticism from his political opponents.

While Trump may now be clear to appear on the California primary ballot, other legal cases regarding release of his financial records are still ongoing. Earlier this week the Supreme Court paused the implementation of a congressional subpoena for the presidents records sent to his longtime accounting firm. Meanwhile, Jay Sekulow has said that he plans to take to the case of a New York City prosecutor's subpoena of Mazars to the Supreme Court.

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