Supreme Court upholds donor privacy for California charities

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In dissent, Judge Sotomayor said the court had taken an important and ill-advised step.

“Today’s ruling rejects decades of First Amendment case law recognizing that reporting and disclosure requirements do not weigh directly on association rights,” she wrote.

Judge Sotomayor defended the California approach.

“In the United States, the responsibility for overseeing charities has traditionally been vested in state attorneys general, who are charged with prosecuting charitable frauds, personal transactions, and embezzlement of charitable funds,” she wrote. . “Effective policing is essential to maintaining public confidence in and continuing to give to charities. “

“California’s interest in exercising such oversight is particularly compelling given the size of its charitable sector,” Judge Sotomayor wrote. “Almost a quarter of the country’s charitable assets are held by charities registered in California.”

She added that many donors have no qualms about having their donations made public.

“A significant number of registered charities in California engage in non-controversial activities,” she wrote. “They include hospitals and clinics; educational institutions; orchestras, operas, choirs and theatrical troupes; museums and art exhibition spaces; food banks and other organizations providing services to the needy, the elderly and the disabled; animal shelters; and organizations that help maintain parks and gardens.

“Of course,” Judge Sotomayor wrote, “there is always the possibility that an organization is inherently controversial or that a seemingly harmless organization explodes into controversy. The answer, however, is to ensure that confidentiality measures are solid. “

Justice Stephen G. Breyer and Elena Kagan joined Justice Sotomayor’s dissent.

In the context of the elections, the Supreme Court supported laws requiring public disclosure. In Citizens United’s campaign fundraising decision in 2010, the court upheld the disclosure requirements before it by an 8-1 vote. In a second 8-1 decision that year, Doe v. Reed, the court ruled that people who sign petitions to register state ballot referendums do not have the general right under the First Amendment to keep their names a secret.

Judge Sotomayor accused the majority of ignoring and abandoning the second precedent.

“Just 11 years ago,” she wrote, “eight members of the tribunal, including two from the current majority, recognized that disclosure requirements do not directly interfere with First Amendment rights. In an opinion barely mentioned in today’s ruling, Reed’s court did the opposite of what the court is doing today.

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