California’s attempt to force Donald Trump to disclose his tax returns is in trouble

Good morning, California.

“Would the Legislature be entitled to impose requirements that candidates produce birth certificate or psychotherapy records or affidavits that they have never committed adultery or been a member of the Communist Party?”—Justice Joshua Groban, at oral arugments over California legislation seeking to compel presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns.

Don’t expect to see Trump’s taxes

Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye at oral arguments over California’s attempt to force Donald Trump to disclose his tax returns (photo by Rich Pedroncelli/AP)

Legislation signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom primarily aimed at requiring Donald Trump to disclose his tax returns before being placed on the March 3 primary ballot appears to be in jeopardy.

All seven California Supreme Court justices pointedly questioned Deputy Attorney General Jay Russell, as he sought to defend the Democratic-backed legislation in oral arguments in Sacramento on Wednesday.

Justice Ming Chin: “Where does it end? Do we get all high school report cards? Do we get certified birth certificates? Do we get five years of medical records?”

  • Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed similar legislation in 2017, warning that other states might require birth certificates, health records, or high school report cards.
  • Newsom said upon signing the bill in July: “The disclosure required by this bill will shed light on conflicts of interest, self-dealing, or influence from domestic and foreign business interests.”

Sacramento attorney Thomas Hiltachk, representing California Republican Party Chairwoman Jessica Millan Patterson, argued Senate Bill 27 violates the U.S. Constitution, and a 1972 state constitutional amendment that says the primary ballot must include all recognized presidential candidates.

Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye asked Russell: ”We’ve searched the record to determine whether or not the California Legislature even considered the California Constitution in the drafting of SB 27. We didn’t find anything. Did you?”

There wasn’t.

What’s next: The justices must act within 90 days. If the GOP prevails, its attorneys will seek attorneys fees. A separate suit over the law is pending in the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Women legislators reach a new high

California’s 120-seat Legislature has 38 women, a record.

The number of women in California’s Legislature grew to 38 this week, after voters in the rural north elected Lassen County Republican Megan Dahle to fill an Assembly seat that became vacant when her husband, Brian Dahle, was elected to the state Senate. 

That’s a record breaker: The California legislative women’s caucus said it’s the largest number of women to ever serve in the 120-member Legislature.

And yet: It means women hold just 31.6% of the seats. Compare that with Nevada, where 52% of state lawmakers are women.

But it’s a huge jump from two years ago, when women accounted for 22.5% of the California Legislature, as CalMatters’ Laurel Rosenhall reported at the time.

It could change: Assemblywoman Christy Smith, a Santa Clarita Democrat, is running for the congressional seat vacated last week by Katie Hill. If she wins, women would be back down to 37.

Becerra takes aim at Facebook

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg

For weeks, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra faced criticism for not joining virtually all other state attorneys general in an investigation into Facebook. 

Becerra revealed in rather dramatic fashion on Wednesday that his office has been investigating the tech giant for a year and a half.

Becerra announced he filed a suit in San Francisco County Superior Court to compel Facebook to turn over documents, including communications between Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg and Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg. 

  • Becerra: “Those are serious allegations when you consider the personal information we all supply to Facebook every single day.”

New York Attorney General Letitia James publicly disclosed she was leading an investigation into Facebook on behalf of states other than California. Google also is a subject of an investigation by the states.

The San Francisco Chronicle summed up chatter last month:

  • “Becerra’s silence on two Silicon Valley titans has fueled speculation about whether he faces pressure to go easy on the companies, engines of California’s economy that have contributed heavily to the campaigns of numerous Democrats.”

Becerra was sticking to the law enforcement standard of not publicly disclosing one way or another whether he was investigating Facebook, although he did note:

  • “How do you know we’re not investigating?”

Trump’s influence on 9th Circuit

Patrick J. Bumatay, of San Diego, President Trump’s nominee to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court

President Donald Trump’s appointees to the 29-judge U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals now number eight, after the Senate confirmed Danielle Hunsaker of Oregon to the nation’s largest federal appellate court on Wednesday.

The Senate voted 73-17 to confirm Hunsaker. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California voted for confirmation. Sen. Kamala Harris did not vote.

Democratic appointees still outnumber Republican appointees on the San Francisco-based 9th circuit. Barack Obama appointed seven sitting judges to the circuit court, and President Bill Clinton appointed nine of the active judges. 

Two more Trump nominees could be confirmed soon—Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Bumatay of San Diego and Lawrence VanDyke of Nevada. Both testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week. 

  • The American Bar Association rated VanDyke as unqualified to serve on the circuit court, as detailed by The Nevada Independent
  • VanDyke choked up when he was asked about a line in the ABA letter that he “would not say affirmatively that he would be fair to any litigant before him, notably members of the LGBTQ community.”
  • Unable to talk for several seconds, he finally said: “It is a fundamental belief of mine that all people are created in the image of God.”

Bumatay, who is gay, introduced his husband to senators, and announced they adopted twin girls earlier this year. He said he believed VanDyke would be fair to LGBT litigants.

Meanwhile: Trump on Wednesday touted his success in appointing judges: “They’re young, smart. That’s 10 years younger than President Obama’s nominees.”

Planners must help avert disaster

Office of Emergency Services Director Mark Ghilarducci interviewed by journalist Rich Ehisen (photo Capitol Weekly)

California’s chief emergency officer says there’s no “silver bullet” to stop the new normal of climate-driven wildfires—this as hot dry weather is predicted for weeks.

Mark Ghilarducci, director of the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, said planners need to recognize the risks of rebuilding on the site of previous disasters, whether they’re wildfires, floods or earthquakes.

Ghilarducci, speaking at a conference organized by Capitol Weekly:

  • “In a few years, after the next massive earthquake, we’ll be sitting here talking about how we let people build on the Hayward Fault. Disasters will happen.”

Take a number: 20,328,636

The gulf between registered Democrats and Republicans grows.

California has turned more partisan, at least based on the voter-registration numbers released Wednesday.

  • The number of voters who are registered as having no party preference fell by 210,000 since February, to 5.4 million. That’s 26.7% of the electorate, down from 28.3% earlier this year.
  • Republicans reversed a years-long trend by gaining voters—84,000 since February to 4.79 million—although their share of the electorate remained at 23.6%.
  • Democrats gained 344,000 voters, to 8.95 million, or 44.1% of the electorate, up from 43.1% in February.

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla reported 20.3 million of California’s 25 million eligible voters are registered. That’s 80.65%.

  • When Padilla took office in 2015, 17.7 million Californians were registered.

Looking to Seattle for answers

A Seattle police officer watches as protesters take part in a Black Lives Matter march, Saturday, August 26, 2017, in Seattle, Washington. Several thousand people attended a downtown rally and then marched through the city to call attention to minority rights and police brutality
A Seattle police officer (photo by Alex Menendez via AP)

California could learn lessons from Seattle, where police have cut their use of moderate and lethal force 60%, CalMatters’ Laurel Rosenhall reports.

ACLU attorney Peter Bibring pointed to the Seattle policy as a model when advocating for a new California law limiting when police can use deadly force:

  • “A policy that restricts force to situations where it’s ‘necessary’ can reduce uses of force and do so safely… I think that should hold true in California.”

Controversial police shootings still happen, and no officer has been prosecuted since the change took effect.

To read Rosenhall’s complete report, please click here. To hear her Force Of Law podcast focused on Seattle, please click here.

Commentary at CalMatters

Andrew Do, Orange County supervisor: Californians deserve a sensible justice system that protects victims and holds violent felons accountable. Instead, Sacramento sells us baloney about pizza thieves.

Dan Walters, CalMatters: A state auditor’s report substantiates criticism of the state’s effort to close an “achievement gap” in California schools.

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See you tomorrow.

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