The Supreme Court ended its term with a belated but chastening blow to former California attorney general Kamala Harris, ruling that non-profits cannot be compelled to surrender information upfront about their top donors to the state.
According to The Washington Times, the court agreed with two conservative groups that Harris’ past demands were intrusive and violated the freedom of association.
SCOTUS rules against it
California rarely enforced its request that tax-exempt charities provide their Schedule B IRS forms listing top donors until Harris came into power, said Richard Thompson of the Thomas More Law Center, one of two plaintiffs.
“It all started when her office demanded that we turn over the names and contact information of our major donors, which we felt was private and confidential, and we were ready to make a constitutional issue of it,” Thompson said, according to the Times.
He hailed the court’s ruling as a victory against a pattern of political harassment that became common during Harris’ tenure, when California notably began its witch hunt against the Center for Medical Progress over a bombshell investigation of Planned Parenthood.
The Thomas More Law Center and the Americans for Prosperity Foundation complained that California’s demands for Schedule B information would expose donors to retaliation.
Notably, Harris may have undermined California’s case when she carelessly disclosed some 1,800 donors on the government’s website, in what a lower court called a “shocking” breach, the Times reported.
“Dubious” burden on freedom
The Supreme Court’s majority opinion was authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, who found that California’s demand for Schedule Bs upfront was not “narrowly tailored” to its stated purpose of fighting fraud.
According to the Times, Roberts called it a “dubious” burden on the First Amendment, particularly as the forms were rarely used for investigations and the state seldom chased them until 2010 — when Harris was elected attorney general.
“The need for up-front collection is particularly dubious given that California — one of only three states to impose such a requirement — did not rigorously enforce the disclosure obligation until 2010,” Roberts said, as the Times reported.
While Democrats deplored the court’s decision as a boon to “dark money,” the plaintiffs were supported by liberal groups such as the Human Rights Campaign, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Times notes.
Harris, for her part, has not been having much better fortune in her newest role, as she contends with leaked reports of low morale in her office and disappointment with her performance from White House insiders.