Trump is under fire in Washington. But he’s winning big in California
President Trump is getting pounded in Washington. But in California’s leftist capital, he’s receiving nifty gifts.
The unlikely givers are Democrats, although it’s certainly not their intention. Trump is still their favorite party piñata.
The president was recently handed two very nice freebies.
One was when a federal judge ruled last week that Democrats — legislators and Gov. Gavin Newsom — had no business trying to strong-arm Trump into publicly releasing his income tax returns as a condition of appearing on California’s presidential primary ballot.
U.S. District Judge Morrison England Jr. shredded the Democrats’ rationalization for enacting the spiteful “gotcha” legislation, which he ruled unconstitutional on three counts. He issued a temporary injunction blocking the first-in-the-nation law.
Democratic Secretary of State Alex Padilla immediately announced he’d appeal the ruling. But even if England’s decision is overturned, which seems unlikely, Trump and Republicans will undoubtedly appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. And the case wouldn’t be settled in time to keep Trump off the state’s March 3 primary ballot.
It was a waste of time and public money for Democrats to run the bill. And that’s being compounded by appealing the court decision.
The second gift was Newsom’s siding with Trump — although the Democratic governor is ignoring that fact — in a water fight over protection of salmon and other endangered species. Newsom aligned himself with Trump and San Joaquin Valley crop irrigators against environmentalists and the coastal fishing industry.
Newsom did that by vetoing a fellow Democrat’s legislation. SB 1 by Senate leader Toni Atkins of San Diego would have allowed California to preserve Obama-era endangered species protections and water-pumping restrictions in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Trump is expected to roll back those environmental safeguards.
The governor quickly got defensive about his veto. And here’s the quote I love:
“I have spent 52 years of my life being an environmental leader and champion,” he told reporters. “I take a back seat to no one in my opposition to the Trump administration’s rollbacks on our clean air, clean water and endangered species.”
OK, well, the governor doesn’t turn 52 until Thursday, so he must have been advocating in the womb. And when he vetoed the bill, he clearly took a back seat in the effort to protect delta salmon and other endangered species.
Water gets complicated. But basically, valley farmers have overplanted and drained their aquifers. They need more delta water. But delta farmers want to keep it and declining salmon need it too.
It’s an old water war that Newsom thinks he can solve peacefully with voluntary negotiations between valley folks and environmentalists. But irrigation districts threatened to pull out of the talks if Newsom signed SB 1. So he vetoed it.
Note: The Legislature appropriated $70 million from an old bond fund to pay valley farmers for their water as part of any agreement.
The farmers’ hero would still be Trump, however.
But back to Trump’s taxes: The issue isn’t whether the president should show voters his returns. Maybe he should. But that’s irrelevant in this case.
The issue is whether a state can require a president to do that as a condition of being listed on its primary election ballot. And England ruled unequivocally that it can’t.
The Legislature’s own nonpartisan legal counsel said the same in 2017. But the Legislature ignored its lawyer and passed a similar anti-Trump bill. Gov. Jerry Brown — who refused to release his own taxes when running for president in 1992 and for governor in 2010 and 2014 — vetoed the measure, warning of a “slippery slope.”
“What would be next?” Brown asked in his veto message. “Five years of health records? A certified birth certificate? High school report cards?”
England, appointed to the federal bench by Republican President George W. Bush, cited Brown’s veto in his opinion and raised a logical question: If Democratic lawmakers felt so strongly about requiring tax releases, why didn’t they act when Brown was running for president? (Or when he was running for governor?)
Easy answer: Different Democratic legislators. But also obvious: Brown was an ally, and Trump is the Republican enemy. It’s called hypocrisy.
England ruled that the new law violates the qualifications clause in Article II of the U.S. Constitution. It’s short and simple: A president must be a natural born citizen, have lived in the country 14 years and be at least 35.
The judge, citing a previous U.S. Supreme Court ruling, wrote that the Constitution’s framers meant for Article II to contain all the qualifications required for president, “divesting states of any power to add qualifications.”
Democratic politicians have argued that the bill, SB 27 by Sen. Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg), did not add a new qualification; it merely inserted another procedure into the election process, which states are entitled to do. England said this argument “is simply not viable.”
The judge also labeled as “disingenuous” the Democrats’ claim that they were merely enshrining in law a tradition for presidential candidates. He noted that not all candidates have disclosed their taxes.
England ruled that the law violates the 1st Amendment because if Trump didn’t release his taxes, his Republican supporters would be denied the right “to associate with and vote for the candidate of their choice.”
He further said the law violates the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause because it affects party candidates but not independents.
And, he added, the California law is preempted by the federal Ethics in Government Act, which requires candidates to disclose certain personal financial information, but not tax returns.
“Courts … are not concerned with political victories or who may or may not win,” England wrote. “Instead, it is the court’s job to make sure the Constitution wins.”
The Constitution did.
And so did Trump. Democrats handed him another “loony lefty” target in California.
The stories shaping California
Get up to speed with our Essential California newsletter, sent six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.