Supreme Court Strikes Down California Law Mandating Donor Disclosures

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A woman walks past the Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C., May 17, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

In a 6-3 ruling breaking down along ideological lines, the Supreme Court ruled that a California law mandating that charities disclose some of their biggest donors to the state attorney general’s office violated the First Amendment.

The majority opinion in Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Bonta, authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, asserts that “the deterrent effect” of the law on donors “is real and pervasive.” While the justices voted — in judgment — along partisan lines, progressive groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and Council on American-Islamic Relations advocated for the same outcome the conservative justices reached in amicus briefs.

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Notably, the Court expressed little faith in the California attorney general’s office’s ability to show discretion with the donor disclosures it was asking for, citing leaks and security breaches that occurred while Vice President Kamala Harris occupied the office.

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Though all six Republican-appointed justices agreed that the donor disclosures mandated by the law were unconstitutional, only Justices Barrett and Kavanaugh signed on to the full opinion, which called for “exacting scrutiny” in all donor disclosure cases. Justice Thomas would be even harder on laws such as California’s, applying strict scrutiny and Justices Alito and Gorsuch did not call for any sweeping rule.

Justice Sotomayor’s dissent remarked that “today’s analysis marks reporting and disclosure requirements with a bull’s-eye.”

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The outcome would seem to lend further credence to the belief that this Court will be keen to expand First Amendment protections as relevant cases come up.

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