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California Passes Law to Block Trump from Running for President in 2020

This July 23, 2019 photo shows California Gov. Gavin Newsom during a news conference in Sacramento, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

California's Democrat governor signed a law Tuesday requiring presidential candidates to release their tax returns in order to appear on the state's primary ballot. 

It's a move political analysts say is aimed at President Donald Trump. But Trump could by-pass the state law even if it withstands a likely legal challenge.

Trump could avoid the requirements by choosing not to compete in California's primary. With no credible GOP challenger at this point, he likely won't need California's delegates to win the Republican nomination.

California's new law will require candidates to submit tax returns for the most recent five years to California's Secretary of State at least 98 days before the primary. They will then be posted online for the public to view with certain personal information withheld. 

The law also applies to candidates for governor. Gov. Newsom said California's status as one of the world's largest economies gives it "a special responsibility" to require tax returns from its prospective elected officials.

"These are extraordinary times and states have a legal and moral duty to do everything in their power to ensure leaders seeking the highest offices meet minimal standards and to restore public confidence," Newsom wrote in his signing statement.

The Trump campaign called the bill "unconstitutional," saying there were good reasons why California's former Democrat Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a similar proposal last year.

"What's next, five years of health records?" said Tim Murtaugh, communications director for Trump's campaign.

The courts, however, will likely have the final word. The bill's author, Democrat state Sen. Mike McGuire, said lawmakers made sure the law only applies to the state's primary ballot because the state Constitution says the state Legislature does not control access to the general election ballot.

In his message to state lawmakers on Tuesday, Newsom said the law is constitutional because "the United States Constitution grants states the authority to determine how their electors are chosen."

But Murtaugh said the law violates First Amendment right of association "since California can't tell political parties which candidates their members can or cannot vote for in a primary election."

While states have authority over how candidates can access the ballot, the US Constitution lays out a limited set of qualifications someone needs to meet to run for president, said Rick Hasen, a professor specializing in election law at the University of California-Irvine School of Law. Those qualifications include the requirement that presidential candidates be over age 35.

The U.S. Supreme court has previously stopped state efforts to add requirements on congressional candidates through ballot access rules.

The Golden State is holding next year's primary on March 3, known as Super Tuesday because of the high number of other states with nominating contests that day.

Democrat Sen. Mike McGuire of Healdsburg said it would be "inconsistent" with past practice for Trump to forego the primary ballot and "ignore the most popular and vote-rich state in the nation."

Republican Party of California chairwoman Jessica Millan Patterson said Newsom signing the law shows Democrat leaders in the state continue "to put partisan politics first," urging Democrats to instead join Republicans "in seeking ways to reduce the cost of living, help our schools and make our streets safer."

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