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Supreme Court considers challenge to California donor disclosure law


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Supreme Court justices on Monday heard arguments in a case that would affect people who anonymously support charitable causes. California requires nonprofits to disclose to the state the names and addresses of major donors. The case combines two separate challenges—one from the Thomas More Law Center and one from Americans for Prosperity.

Attorney Derek Shaffer, of Americans for Prosperity, pointed to evidence from the district court that donors faced harassment and threats after the state leaked information that was supposed to be private. Similar concerns have led some states to pass laws protecting donor privacy.

On the whole, the conservative majority seemed to view the law as problematic. Election law expert Rick Hasen, a professor at the University of California, Irvine tweeted that “even halfway through the argument, it’s clear that California will not win this case.” Justice Clarence Thomas, in particular, asked questions about whether donor disclosure was wise given the current “intensity of views and proclivity to vilify.”

Liberal justices—particularly Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan—seemed more receptive to California’s rationale for requiring disclosures. The state claimed the rule provided oversight for charities and helped investigations into fraud claims. Kagan told Shaffer that many donors value their names being associated with a charity.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett declined to recuse herself from the case. On April 16, three Democratic senators sent a letter to Barrett asking her not to participate because Americans for Prosperity during her confirmation hearings had said it would spend at least a million dollars to ensure her nomination.

Steve West

Steve is a legal correspondent for WORLD. He is a graduate of World Journalism Institute, Wake Forest University School of Law, and N.C. State University. He worked for 34 years as a federal prosecutor and is now an attorney in private practice. Steve resides with his wife in Raleigh, N.C.



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