published on November 6, 2019 - 12:12 PM
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(AP) — California’s Supreme Court justices seemed skeptical Wednesday of a state law requiring President Donald Trump to disclose his tax returns if he wants to be a candidate in the state’s primary election next spring.

The justices wondered in a rapid-fire hour of questioning if the nation’s first such law might hypothetically be expanded to include all sorts of things, from birth certificates to psychiatric records. A federal judge already temporarily blocked the state law requiring presidential candidates to release their tax returns to run in California’s March 3 presidential primary.

Could candidates also be required to swear they’re not Communists or never committed adultery, asked Justice Joshua Groban. How about requiring that they disclose five years of their school report cards, added Justice Ming Chin.

Supervising Deputy Attorney General Jay Russell argued that the Legislature has discretion to set restrictions.

“The Legislature can then tack on any number of additional requirements?” Chin asked. “Where does it end?”

The requirement violates the California Constitution, specifically a 1972 voter-approved amendment guaranteeing that all recognized candidates must be on the ballot, said attorney Thomas Hiltachk, arguing on behalf of the California Republican Party and chairwoman Jessica Millan Patterson.

They filed the state lawsuit challenging Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signing in July of the law aimed at the Republican president.

The opponents said keeping Trump off the ballot could lower voter turnout in the primary, hurting Republican legislative and congressional candidates’ chances of reaching the general election. That’s because California’s top-two primary system sends the two highest vote-getters in the primary to the general election regardless of party.

But the state’s lawyers said it’s a common-sense requirement so that voters can gauge candidates’ “financial status and honesty concerning financial matters.”

The justices sped up their usual timetable because the deadline to file tax returns for California’s March 3 presidential primary would be Nov. 26 if the law survives. But the state’s appeal of the federal judge’s order will extend past that deadline, and the court could take up to 90 days to rule.

State officials would not say why they have not sought a faster review by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals or if that means they are giving up on getting Trump’s returns in time for next year’s election.

Most major Democratic presidential candidates already publicly disclosed their personal income tax returns. Trump broke with decades of tradition in refusing to release his returns, citing an ongoing Internal Revenue Service audit.

The justices’ consideration comes the same week that a federal appeals court in New York ruled that Trump’s tax returns can be turned over to grand jury that would usually keep them from public view.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. is seeking the returns as part of a broader investigation that includes payments made to buy the silence of porn actress Stormy Daniels and Playboy centerfold Karen McDougal, both of whom claim they had affairs with the president before the 2016 presidential election. Trump has denied the allegations.

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