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Trump, Republican Party Sue Over California Tax Return Law

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The Trump campaign and Republican Party sued California on Tuesday over a new law requiring presidential candidates to release their tax returns to run in the state's primary, legislation that was aimed at prying loose President Donald Trump's returns.

Speaker 1: 00:00 The Trump campaign has filed suit against the new California law that requires presidential candidates. Julie's five years of tax returns to qualify to be on the state's primary ballot. This sets up a standoff between Trump and California. It means that if the law is upheld, Trump would not appear on California's primary ballot in March unless he releases his tax returns by an November deadline. Here to explore the legal ramifications of this is our KPBS legal analyst, Dan Eaton, a partner with the San Diego law firm, Seltzer Caplan McMahon. Invitech. Thanks for joining us, Dan. Good to be with you Alison. So on what grounds is the campaign suing but primary grounds or these are one. They're saying that the new law all constitutionally adds another qualification or for a presidency beyond those of being 35 years of age and a natural born citizen. The other ground concern, the first amendment that is a, it is interfering with the president's first amendment right, a t access and also was in retaliation for uh, his, uh, statements as to say that he says that the Democrats in the legislature are out to get him and are retaliating kids to minute acting this law, even though it applies to Kennedy, to both parties because they just don't like what he says, they point to certain comments from Gavin Newsome and the major sponsors of the law.

Speaker 1: 01:21 The final basis on which the challenge, the a president's challenges based is a vet. It violates a, in effect, it tries to Trump, if you will, the ethics in government act, which requires presidential candidates to issue broad financial disclosures. And they say by asking for more specific information for the purposes of a allowing voters to determine of whether a president of Kennedy has a conflict of interest, they are interfering with the federal law that's in effect that is to the same purpose and that federal law preempt or trumps this state law that's designed to accomplish the same purpose. So on several grounds, but it's not the only lawsuit against California's new law. Who else is suing to overturn it? That's right. Uh, the Republican National Committee and several Republican voters in California are also suing and there is also a separate, a lawsuit by an advocacy group. And those are, uh, those largely traced the president's comments, but uh, or challenges of, but they are from the perspective of a voters access to, uh, being able to vote for the candidate of their choice. In this case, uh, Mr. Trump, they also raised an interesting argument that it, a, it's a violation of equal protection because this law does not apply to independent candidates that are not registered with any political party. As you mentioned on the president's lawyers are saying that this is overtly political because most, for example, former governor

Speaker 2: 03:00 Jerry Brown of California declined to support a similar law in 2017 whereas governor Gavin Newsom has signed it. Do you think it would stand a better chance of holding if it were not so overtly political?

Speaker 1: 03:12 Well, yeah, clearly it would stand a better chance. But here's the interesting thing about governor Brown's veto, and when you look at the complaint that was filed by the Republican National Convention and the California voters, they point out that Jerry Brown himself declined to release his tax returns when he ran for president. Uh, some decades ago. The president in his lawsuit specifically has a, a provocative paragraph that reads, the Democratic Party is on a crusade to obtain the president's federal tax returns in the hopes of finding something they can use to harm him politically in their rush to join the crusade. California Democrats have run a foul of these restrictions on state power over federal elections. Closed quote, the Republican National Committee's a lawsuit, uh, in turn, uh, calls the act a quote, naked political attack against the sitting president of the United States. Close quote,

Speaker 2: 04:03 do other candidates for the California primary ballot for is for Congress, for example, do they have to release their tax returns?

Speaker 1: 04:09 No. This, uh, uh, those for governor, by the way, do under SB 27, but, uh, not for a congress. And that's really the issue is whether this a regulation which is designed to ensure greater transparency and, and more informed electorate is really about ballot access or whether it is a substantive, uh, additional qualification, uh, for the presidency. That's unconstitutional. Uh, Larry tribe, the preeminent constitutional scholar at Harvard law school has weighed in and said that these laws are constitutionally okay, uh, because they really are more in the nature of are regulating ballot access, which states are allowed to do as opposed to imposing substantive qualifications because it's a relatively minor. That's how professor tried characterizes it, uh, element of a requirement to get access. All they have to do is released their tax returns. But ultimately the courts are going to have to decide this. And president Trump and his campaign have very, very strong arguments as to why this law cannot stand.

Speaker 2: 05:13 How, what is your take on whether it could possibly be settled by this November deadline?

Speaker 1: 05:17 Well, they're going to move on expedited briefing. The interesting thing is normally when laws are passed, they don't go into effect until January 1st of the following year. The California legislature treated this as an urgent matter and therefore made it effective immediately, the matter is going to be settled one way or the other. My guess is that a court is going to decide whether to enjoin or not this law within the next couple of months, and this ultimately could be decided by the Supreme Court depending on how the lower court rules

Speaker 2: 05:49 historically. Has there ever been a situation where the incumbent presidential candidate did not appear on the primary ballot of a major state like California?

Speaker 1: 05:57 No, this is,

Speaker 2: 05:58 we are really in uncharted territory, both in terms of tradition and in terms of, uh, the constitutional question when you're talking about additional qualifications. By the way, uh, the area where this came up was in 1995 supreme court case called Forton. Oh, we're a state in this case, Arkansas wanted to impose a term limit for their congressional candidate or prohibiting a candidate who had served a certain number of years in Congress from appearing again on the ballot in the Supreme Court said, no, no, no, you're adding a qualification for Congress. So this hasn't even been tested in the presidential realm. Another thing is that when you're talking about a tradition, the tradition only goes back to the early 1970s when President Nixon released his returns. President Ford did not release his return. He released a summary of them. But ever since then, every candidate, uh, from a major party except for a president, Trump has released their tax returns. So we're dealing with very uncharted territories, and the courts are going to have a very interesting time sifting through these constitutional and statutory questions in the case of the ethics. Well then, thanks so much for helping us come to grips with this. All right. Thank you, Allison. That's our KPBS legal analyst, Ben Eaton, a partner with the San Diego law firm of Seltzer Caplan McMahon, and by tech

Speaker 3: 07:21 [inaudible].

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.