People walk past the US Supreme Court on the day the court will issue orders and opinions on June 1, 2021 in Washington, USA.
Erin Scott | Reuters
The Supreme Court on Thursday overturned a California rule requiring nonprofits to disclose the names and addresses of their largest donors, winning a victory for two conservative groups that challenged the request as unconstitutional.
The 6: 3 decision, which split the nine judges on an ideological basis, overturned a 2018 appeals court decision on the side of the California attorney general.
The rule had forced nonprofits to give the state their so-called Schedule B forms, which contain the personal information of all donors across the country who had contributed more than $ 5,000 in a given tax year. The state had argued that it needed this information to detect malpractice by charities.
“We have no doubt that California has a vital interest in preventing charity misconduct,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts in majority opinion.
But “there is a dramatic discrepancy” between “the interest the attorney general is trying to promote and the disclosure regime he has put in place to that end,” wrote Roberts.
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Two conservative groups – Americans for Prosperity, the influential advocacy group funded by the Koch billionaire brothers, and the Michigan-based Thomas More Law Center, which has been actively involved in hot cultural arenas – both had the disclosure rule challenged in lawsuits against the then-attorney general Kamala Harris.
These groups argued that California’s disclosure requirements violated the constitutional protection of freedom of speech and association.
US District Court judge Manuel Real agreed in 2016, ruling that the provision “chills the donor’s exercise of the freedoms of his donor’s first amendment to speak anonymously and engage in expressive association.”
However, the US Appeals Court for the Ninth District overturned the District Court’s rulings, stating that donor information “was collected for non-public use only and the risk of inadvertent public disclosure was low”.
Xavier Becerra followed Harris in the role after she became a US Senator. The current attorney general for the state is Rob Bonta.
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