Supreme Court Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar

In summary

California loses battle for Trump’s taxes. State to sue Trump administration over Delta water shipments. Power shutoffs leaves residents hungry.

Good morning, California.

“We absolutely will be requesting reimbursement of our attorney fees. The hard earned money donated to our party by our supporters should not have to be used fighting these dirty and unconstitutional political tricks by Democrats.”—California Republican Party Chairwoman Jessica Millan Patterson.

State is drubbed in Trump tax case

President Donald Trump on the campaign trail. Photo by Michael Vadon
State can’t force President Donald Trump to release tax returns.

A unanimous California Supreme Court on Thursday put a halt to the attempt by Democratic legislators and Gov. Gavin Newsom to force President Trump to turn over his tax returns in order to appear on the March primary ballot, CalMatters’ Ben Christopher reports.

The narrow ruling leaves in place a separate part of the law requiring future candidates for governor to provide five years of their income tax returns to the Secretary of State for public release.

The decision authored by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye relies on a voter-approved 1972 ballot measure, Proposition 4, that requires all recognized presidential candidates to appear on the primary ballot. That measure does not apply to candidates for governor.

Former Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed similar legislation in 2017. But Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a new version that included the provision requiring candidates for governor to release their tax returns, though Trump clearly was the focus.

  • 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.” 

Next steps

  • The Sacramento law firm of Bell, McAndrews & Hiltachk, which represents California GOP Chairwoman Jessica Millan Patterson in the state court case, will seek attorneys fees from the state.
  • Secretary of State Alex Padilla said Thursday the state would drop appeals of federal court suits challenging the law.
  • Expect attorneys representing Trump, the Republican National Committee and others in those five lawsuits to seek attorneys fees from California as well.

‘Corruption and tyranny’

Supreme Court Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar

California Supreme Court Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar made clear he thinks voters have an interest in seeing presidential candidates’ tax returns, even as he joined the rest of the court in striking down a state law that sought to compel Donald Trump to release his tax returns.

  • Cuéllar, in a concurring opinion, quoted Thomas Jefferson: “‘[T]he time to guard against corruption and tyranny is before they shall have gotten their hold on us. It is better to keep the wolf out of the fold, than to trust to drawing his teeth and talons after he shall have entered.’ … The force of that warning remains undiluted by today’s decision.”

The Legislature cannot compel a presidential candidate to release his or her tax returns as a condition of appearing on a primary ballot. But Cuéllar noted that the decision does not “prohibit the Legislature from encouraging or seeking such information from a presidential candidate” in some other way.

In other words: The door is open to trying another way.

New front in California’s water war

A slough in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration will sue the Trump administration over a plan that could increase water shipments from the Delta to San Joaquin Valley farms and urban areas to the South.

Environmentalists lauded the step. Water purveyors criticized it. The suit ensures California’s water wars will continue.

California Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot and Jared Blumenfeld, secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency, announced some of the steps in a commentary for CalMatters.

Federal authorities had announced their vision for operating California’s water system in a CalMatters commentary in October.

The state released a 600-page environmental impact report detailing California’s new plan for managing water.

  • Blumenfeld: “We value our partnerships with federal agencies on water management, including our work together to achieve the voluntary agreements. At the same time, we also need to take legal action to protect the state’s interest and our environment.”
  • Brenda Burman of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said the Newsom  administration announcement means judges will “dictate these important projects instead of the career professionals at the federal and state levels who have developed a plan based on the best science and significant input from the public.”

Newsom angered environmentalists by vetoing legislation in September that sought to protect endangered species by locking in standards that existed before Trump took office. If he signed that bill, he might have had a stronger hand in court.

Power shutdowns and spoiled food

A mother and daughter affected by October’s power outages received food at a Sonoma County elementary school.

In some cases, people faced immediate hunger. Some people relied on food banks, some of which lost their own power. Many others scrambled to pull together rent while also refilling their fridges.

Low-income people across California faced hunger and financial crisis as food in their refrigerators spoiled when utilities deliberately turned off the power to 2.7 million people in fire-prone communities in October, CalMatters’ Jackie Botts reports.

  • Ana Patricia Rios of Sonoma County, a mother of three who lost eight days of power and at least $500 worth of food: “Even if the electricity doesn’t arrive, the bills do.”

One in 10 residents and one in eight children live below the federal poverty level in the census tracts affected by PG&E’s planned blackout that started Oct. 26, a CalMatters analysis of census data show.

More than a third of residents live in poverty in some of the sections of Vallejo, San Pablo, Berkeley, San Rafael, Santa Cruz, Clearlake, Redding, Arcata and Sonora where the lights went out.

  • Andrew Cheyne of the California Association of Food Banks: “We cannot be there for everyone in need, and Californians are not refilling those refrigerators.”

PG&E Chief Executive Officer William Johnson: “We are working to narrow the scope and duration of future safety shutoffs and minimizing their customer impact as much as possible.”

To read Botts’ full report, please click here.

For past installments of CalMatters’ California Divide Collaboration, please click here.

Take a number: 87

A homeless man naps in downtown Sacramento earlier this year.

A Public Policy Institute of California poll finds 87% of likely California voters are concerned about homeless people in their local community, and majorities across regions and demographic groups saying they are “very concerned.”

  • A majority of all demographic groups and across all parts of the state believe homelessness has increased in the past 12 months, except for San Diego, where 49% believe the problem has worsened, the poll found.

Commentary at CalMatters

Wade Crowfoot and Jared Blumenfeld, secretaries of Natural Resources and CalEPA: After careful review of the federal biological opinions released late last month, our best experts concluded they are insufficient to protect endangered fish. As a result, the state needs to protect California’s interests and values.

María P. Aranda, Governor’s Task Force on Alzheimer’s Prevention and Preparedness: As California’s older adult population grows, Alzheimer’s is on pace to increase by more than 29% over the next five years. Focusing on this issue now is a statewide imperative. Overcoming stigma and taking the disease head-on as my father did will make the difference.


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Dan Morain joined CalMatters in March 2018. He is the former editorial page editor of The Sacramento Bee. Morain also spent 27 years at The Los Angeles Times, and has covered the Capitol since 1992.