Under California law, non-profit organizations in the state must report the names of individuals who make large contributions to their causes. It’s a requirement that many conservatives — and even some liberals — have argued violates the First Amendment.
This week, the Supreme Court agreed. According to the Washington Examiner, the nation’s high court struck down California’s donor disclosure rule as unconstitutional in a 6–3 ruling on Thursday.
SCOTUS strikes it down
Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts declared that California’s statute, as it stands, puts donors at personal risk for no compelling reason.
“The upshot is that California casts a dragnet for sensitive donor information from tens of thousands of charities each year, even though that information will become relevant in only a small number of cases involving filed complaints,” he said, according to the Examiner.
Roberts went on to note instances in which donors to controversial causes have been forced to contend with the potential for violent retribution, including bomb threats and personal attacks.
“Such risks are heightened in the 21st century and seem to grow with each passing year, as ‘anyone with access to a computer [can] compile a wealth of information about’ anyone else, including such sensitive details as a person’s home address or the school attended by his children,” he explained, as the Examiner reported.
Given the nature of these worries, the chief justice said he was “unpersuaded” by the state’s claim that its disclosure policies would not result in intimidation.
Barrett bucks calls to recuse
What’s more, Roberts pointed out that although California claimed the measure was necessary to prevent fraud, the state could point to no instances in which donor information was used in a fraud investigation.
Among those joining Roberts in his opinion was Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who was appointed in the waning days of the Trump administration. In April, Democrat Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (RI) sent a letter to Barrett asking her to recuse herself from the case.
According to the Examiner, the letter, which was also signed by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA), pointed out that one of the plaintiffs in the case — Americans for Prosperity Foundation — had pushed for Barrett’s confirmation. This, the Democratic lawmakers suggested, created a conflict of interest.
“The American people are alarmed about the seemingly dominant influence of special interests on our politics and government,” they wrote.
Barrett didn’t oblige, however, and now, the decision has been made. For proponents of the First Amendment, another win is in the books.