At issue: Americans' right to free speech & free association

Friday, March 5, 2021
Chris Woodward (

U.S. ConstitutionA case being heard next month by the Supreme Court may determine whether nonprofits have to disclose the names and addresses of major donors.

The high court agreed to hear the case (Thomas More Law Center v. Becerra) after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that Thomas More Law Center – and all other nonprofits that solicit donations in California – must disclose the names and addresses of major donors to the California attorney general on an annual basis.

"We've received more than 40 briefs in support of the position that we're taking on behalf of the Thomas More Law Center," says attorney John Bursch of Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the law firm representing Thomas More Law Center. "Those briefs come from all across the political spectrum – from folks like Americans United for Life, Young Americans for Liberty … the NAACP and the ACLU."

Bursch believes oral arguments will take place in late April. "The court traditionally hears arguments only through April so that it has time to get out opinions, and that means we can expect to see an opinion in this important case no later than June 30th of this year," the attorney explains.


One of ADF's arguments involves a Civil Rights-era ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court involving the NAACP, which Bursch says "was very successful in dismantling the system of institutionalized racism" that existed in the U.S. at the time.

"[But] there were some states that wanted to stop [what the NAACP was trying to do]," he continues, "and they came up with the idea that they would require the NAACP chapters to disclose their members to the government."

As Bursch explains, that issue made it all the way to the Supreme Court.

"The Supreme Court [justices] recognized that we have this First Amendment right to expressively associate in groups, and that that had been violated by these Southern states," he offers. "[The court decided] they didn't have a good reason for that information and that it put the members in peril – and it also basically stopped the ability of the NAACP to recruit people who wanted to be part of the effort."

As for the current justices, Bursch contends they have been very supportive of First Amendment free speech and free association rights in recent years.

"A number of justices have even called out this problem of individuals being harassed or doxxed or threatened for supporting certain causes," the ADF attorney adds. "So, you never know in any particular case what the justices will do – but we feel very confident with that NAACP case and those statements at our back."

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