SCOTUS so far seems 'hostile' toward Cali policy

Wednesday, April 28, 2021
Chris Woodward (

signing petitionsAn attorney is optimistic that the Supreme Court will rule in his client's favor in a case against a policy that began when Kamala Harris was attorney general of California.

Consolidated with Americans for Prosperity v. Bonta, the issue in the case of Thomas More Law Center v. Bonta is a California policy requiring organizations to identify their donors to the attorney general's office.

"It was really remarkable that all nine justices asked questions and made comments that were pretty favorable to the plaintiffs and hostile to the state of California," attorney John Bursch of Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) recently told the "Washington Watch with Tony Perkins" program.

ADF is representing Thomas More Law Center in its Supreme Court case against Attorney General Rob Bonta (D-California).

"There were over 250 groups in more than 40 briefs that filed in support of the law center, and they range all across the ideological spectrum from conservative groups, to the ACLU, to the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), and more so than any Supreme Court case that I've ever seen," Bursch detailed.

As part of its argument that what the California Attorney General's Office is doing is unconstitutional, ADF points to a 1950s Supreme Court ruling involving the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the state of Alabama.

"It was the Jim Crow era, and Alabama and other southern states were demanding that they hand over their membership lists as a condition of doing business in those states. And that had predictable results in the Jim Crow south," said Bursch. "The NAACP lost 50% and more of its members in those states, and the U.S. Supreme Court recognized that the First Amendment protects the freedom of association and that in those cases the demand for membership lists was chilling the First Amendment rights not only of the NAACP chapters, but also of their supporters. And that was unconstitutional. Fast-forward to today, and that's really a direct analogue of what's happening here."


While the case involves Attorney General Bonta, the policy began when Vice President Kamala Harris was attorney general of California.

"She said that an upfront disclosure requirement … was necessary to prevent charitable fraud," Bursch explained. "California never used that information prior to filing a complaint, and once they filed a complaint and initiated an investigation, they were very easily able to get this information from the impacted charity. So it was basically a solution in search of a problem."

In the meantime, Bursch said databanks were routinely hacked, and donor information made its way onto the Internet.

"Thomas More Law Center had testimony from clients and from employees who had been doxed in all kinds of ways," said Bursch. "They had been threatened. They had been harassed. They had, in one instance, even had an assassination attempt against them because of their religious ideology."

It is possible the Supreme Court rules California's policy unconstitutional only as it applied to these two plaintiffs.

"I got the feeling that the court wanted to go broader than that," said Bursch, "but really, the big victory here I think would be to see the court expound on and develop more of its free association jurisprudence."

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