The Supreme Court struck down a California regulation forcing charitable organizations to give the state attorney general’s office the identities of their major donors, finding 6-3 that the rule unconstitutionally burdens the First Amendment right to free association.
The court opinion split cleanly along ideological and partisan lines with the 6 conservative justices nominated by Republican presidents voting to strike down the rule and the 3 liberal justices nominated by Democratic presidents voting to uphold it.
The ruling was a major victory for the two conservative nonprofits that brought suit and the former Trump administration, which had argued the state’s regulation violated the Constitution. But a broad cross-section of the nonprofit world filed briefs in support of the nonprofits’ position, including the ACLU, NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Human Rights Campaign, and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion in the consolidated case, Americans for Prosperity Foundation (AFPF) v. Bonta, court file 19-251, and Thomas More Law Center v. Bonta, court file 19-255, which came down July 1. Rob Bonta, a Democrat, was sworn in April 23 as California’s attorney general. Telephonic oral arguments took place April 26 after the Supreme Court decided Jan. 8 to hear the case.
AFPF and its sister organization, Americans for Prosperity, are influential libertarian nonprofits funded by businessman Charles Koch. The Thomas More Law Center is a conservative Christian public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
The decision “protects Americans from being forced to choose between staying safe or speaking up,” AFPF CEO Emily Seidel said in a statement.
“The ability to maintain one’s privacy makes it possible for people to join together in causes and movements. Especially given how polarized our country has become, the work of addressing injustice and advocating for change is hard enough without people facing fear of harassment and retaliation from the government and from potentially violent opposition.”