Conservatives clap back against California in court — twice

It was a busy day for GOP-affiliated courtroom battles against the state of California.

In the morning, conservatives sued the state claiming it was failing to “ensure that non-citizens are never placed on the voter rolls.” In the afternoon, they scored an early, anticipated victory to block a new state law that would require presidential candidates to publish their tax returns in order to appear on the March primary ballot.

First, the “illegal votes” complaint.

The plaintiffs are three registered Republicans: two naturalized citizens and Corrin Rankin, who ran for state party vice-chair last year. According to the filing, each believes that their “legitimate vote is being diluted by the illegal votes of non-citizens.”

“California refuses to use the data in its possession to determine citizenship eligibility,” said Harmeet Dhillon, the attorney who filed the suit, said at a San Francisco press conference.

But California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, a Democrat, issued a statement labeling the complaint a “misrepresentation” of the law and “nothing more than an underhanded attempt to bring their voter suppression playbook to California.”

At the crux of the case is the state’s “motor voter law,” a program designed to automatically register drivers license applicants to vote — as long as they are eligible and unless they opt-out. Since its rollout, the program has been riddled with administrative errors and technical glitches.

The lawsuit argues that the Secretary of State’s office, which administers state election law, is not using records available to the DMV to exclude non-citizens from the program. Such records include special driver’s licenses that undocumented immigrants can seek.

That, the suit argues, violates the National Voter Registration Act, a 1993 federal law that requires states to “to ensure that accurate and current voter registration rolls are maintained.”

Federal law “does not require the Secretary to obtain further proof of citizenship, whether from the DMV or any other source,” Steve Reyes, chief counsel to the Secretary of State’s office, wrote in an August letter in the lead-up to today’s filing.

There is no evidence of widespread voting by undocumented immigrants in California.

President Donald Trump has falsely claimed that his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton won the 2016 popular vote by a nearly 3 million vote margin only because of the illegitimate votes of “illegal aliens.”

The Dhillon Law Group is also representing the national Republican Party in its challenge to a recently passed state law that would bar candidates from being placed on the presidential primary ballot if they do not publicly disclose their tax returns.

Today a federal district court judge put a hold on the new law until the legal battle plays out, all but ensuring that President Trump will make an appearance on the state ballot even if he continues refusing to disclose his returns.

Judge Morrison England, a George W. Bush appointee, decided that the new law likely exceeds the qualifications the U.S. Constitution puts on candidates for office, and violates the rights of association of Republican voters in California.

“While this Court understands and empathizes with the motivations that prompted California to pass the Act,” England wrote, “the Act’s provisions likely violate the Constitution and the laws of the United States.”

Padilla’s office has said that it will appeal the decision.

These are not the first high-profile cases that Dhillon, a Republican National Committee chairwoman, and her legal team have waged against the state or other institutions they perceive to be adversarial to conservatives. Her firm has also represented high-profile conservative plaintiffs, including Google employee James Damore and writer Andy Ngo.

Latest in Election 2020

Blake Kazarian and other delegates cheer presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren as she addresses the California Democratic Party Convention at the Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco. Photo by Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group

Election 2020

No-shows, endorsement spats and drag queens: What’s on tap at this weekend’s Democratic convention

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi swears in Rep. Katie Hill, with Hill's now-estranged husband, Kenny Heslep, during the opening session of the 116th Congress in January. AP Photo/Cliff Owen

Election 2020

Will California’s “revenge porn” law really help Rep. Katie Hill?

The California big-donor money race among presidential candidates, zip code by zip code. Data visualizations by Ben Christopher for CalMatters

Election 2020

7 data visualizations: Which presidential candidates are Californians funding — month by month, zip by zip?

Hands making thumbs up and thumbs down signals.

Election 2020

Fact check: Do Californians really cool on ballot measures as the election approaches?

Democratic presidential candidate and businessman Tom Steyer waits to speak at the Des Moines Register Soapbox during a visit to the Iowa State Fair. AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

Election 2020

What California knows about Tom Steyer

Homeless encampments like this one in Santa Cruz contribute to rising public concern about homelessness and housing in California. Photo by Dan Coyro/Santa Cruz Sentinel

Election 2020

Californians surveyed: Rising homelessness concerns, a split on Newsom, and no home-state edge for Kamala Harris