The Central Issue in the Constitutional Challenge to CA’s New Law Denying Ballot Access to Presidential Candidates Unless They Disclose Their Tax Returns

The Supreme Court has long recognized that laws regulating candidate access to the ballot implicate the First Amendment and associational rights of voters. After all, if a candidate cannot get on the ballot, voters cannot vote for that candidate. As a result, the Court has held that the constitutional right of voters are violated by various regulations that impose “undue burdens” on ballot access, including in the context of presidential primaries.

Indeed, in the one case perhaps closest on point to this new California law, the Supreme Court — in an opinion by Justice Stevens — has held that when such laws involve the presidential election process, the courts must be particularly careful to scrutinize such laws closely. The reasons, according to Justice Stevens for the Court in Anderson v. Celebrezze, 460 US 780 (1983), are these:

Furthermore, in the context of a Presidential election, state-imposed restrictions implicate a uniquely important national interest. For the President and the Vice President of the United States are the only elected officials who represent all the voters in the Nation. Moreover, the impact of the votes cast in each State is affected by the votes cast for the various candidates in other States. Thus in a Presidential election a State’s enforcement of more stringent ballot access requirements, including filing deadlines, has an impact beyond its own borders.Similarly, the State has a less important interest in regulating Presidential elections than statewide or local elections, because the outcome of the former will be largely determined by voters beyond the State’s boundaries. This Court, striking down a state statute unduly restricting the choices made by a major party’s Presidential nominating convention, observed that such conventions serve “the pervasive national interest in the selection of candidates for national office, and this national interest is greater than any interest of an individual State.” Cousins v. Wigoda, 419 U. S. 477, 490 (1975).

There are no bright-line doctrinal rules here. The Court will weigh the “character and magnitude” of the burden the law imposes against CA’s legitimate justifications for it. But that process of analysis will include significant consideration of the issues that Anderson identified in striking down the Ohio ballot access law at issue there.

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