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Can States Require Candidates For President To Release Tax Returns? Probably Not.

tax-forms

Over the Easter weekend we saw protesters take to the streets in several American cities on what seems like a rather esoteric, possibly even irrelevant, topic, the fact that Donald Trump has yet to release any of his tax returns:

In a Tax Day groundswell of calls for President Trump to release his tax returns, hundreds of protesters marched to Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago getaway on Saturday in Florida, and thousands more gathered in Washington and other cities across the country.

On a waterfront patch facing Mr. Trump’s resort, where he is spending the weekend, demonstrators chanted “Pay! Your! Taxes!” and held signs calling him “Chicken in Chief” — the chicken being a symbol at the rallies of how Mr. Trump was “scared” to follow decades of presidential practice in releasing the returns.

“This is the closest we have come to making sure he sees us and hears us,” said Debbie Wehking, 66, a school principal from Miami. “He needs to show us his tax returns so that we can tell who’s influencing his decisions, who he owes money to, who he’s doing business with — really so we can figure out whether he needs to be impeached.”

Mr. Trump avoided the protest, taking a more circuitous route in his motorcade as he returned from a morning outing to his golf club in West Palm Beach. But while the president was spared the sight of chanting, sign-waving crowds, the demonstrations were heard around the country, in some cases snaking past properties bearing the Trump name.

In Washington, several thousand people who had gathered at the foot of the Capitol — many holding replicas of chickens with golden pompadours — marched through the streets, passing the Trump International Hotel near the White House.

“70% want to see your taxes — that’s bigly!” one sign read. It was a reference to the lopsided majorities that polls show want the president to release his returns, as presidents have done for the past 40 years, though they are not required to.

Another said, “My taxes pay for your golf.”

The White House has said Mr. Trump cannot release his tax returns because he is under audit by the Internal Revenue Service. But the tax returns of presidents and vice presidents are automatically audited every year, a circumstance that has not prevented every other president since Richard M. Nixon from making public at least a portion of his tax records.

Government transparency groups and Democrats have said that Mr. Trump has a particular duty to make the returns public, given the potential conflicts presented by his vast business holdings and his push to rewrite the tax code. One government ethics group has sued the president, arguing that his hotel profits violate the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, which prohibits federal officials from receiving “any present, emolument, office or title of any kind whatever from any king, prince or foreign state.”

“How can we determine his conflicts of interest or stop him from receiving payments from foreign governments if he won’t show us the names of the people and corporations that he is in active partnership with all over the world?” said Representative Jamie Raskin, Democrat of Maryland, who appeared at the Washington rally.

This isn’t a new issue, of course. Virtually from the day that he got into the race in June 2015 Trump has declined to release his tax returns for any year, citing the fact that he is allegedly under audit for multiple year’s returns as the reason for his decision. As a matter of law, of course, even if it is true that Trump is being audited there is no legal bar to him voluntarily releasing his returns for any given year, even those years currently being examined by the Federal Government. At the same time, though, may tax attorneys and accountants that have been consulted by the media over that time period have said that they would advise their client against publicly releasing the returns as long as there was an ongoing audit, citing the concern that making the information public could somehow impact the audit itself or whatever settlement negotiations might be going on regarding outstanding tax liabilities at the Federal or State level.

Notwithstanding Trump’s refusal to release returns, the public has gotten at least some glimpse at his tax picture, but it hasn’t been particularly illuminating. In October of last year, just about a month prior to the election, a reporter at The New York Times received two pages of Trump’s 1995 tax return from an anonymous source who had somehow obtained a copy of at least part of the return. The most notable thing about that partial return was that it showed that, at the time, Trump was carrying what would have likely been a multi-year deduction related to business losses in the early 1990s that, in theory, could have legally allowed him to avoid paying any real tax liability for a decade or more. More recently, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow made a big show out of the fact that she had obtained a partial copy of Trump’s 2005 tax return, which in this case didn’t really show anything extraordinary. As with the October leak, Maddow only received the two pages of Trump’s Form 1040 and not any of the Schedules or supporting documents that were likely filed with the return(s), so there was nothing particularly illuminating about the leaked documents. One notable thing about the return leaked to Maddow, though, is the fact that it did not appear that Trump was still taking the same sizeable loss deduction he had ten years earlier, although that doesn’t mean that he wasn’t still taking advantage of it, as permitted by law, in years after 1995. In any case, as I said, neither of these releases is particularly illuminating, but that isn’t stopping some activists from forcing Trump to reveal more about his taxes.

With Trump unlikely to release his returns at any point in the near future, some politicians and activists are exploring ways to force his hand. One effort has taken place in Congress where Democrats have pushed a measure that purports to use Congress’s subpoena power to force Trump to give at least ten years of returns to the House Ways & Means Committee. Thanks to Republican control of the House, of course, this effort has failed to garner even the level of support they’d need to move the measure to the Senate, where it would likely die anyway. Barring the Congressional route, others are pursuing action at the state level to pass laws that would require candidates for President to release tax returns for a certain number of years in order to get on the ballot. The state-level strategy, of course, is to at least try to trap Trump into releasing his return as the price for running for re-election. In addition to the fact that Republican control of state legislatures means that getting such a measure through any non-Democratic state is unlikely, it’s not at all clear that such state laws are even constitutional.

Harvard Law School Professor Laurence Tribe, who writes at CNN in a piece co-authored by Norman Eisen and Richard Painter of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics argue that the states are in fact authorized to pass such laws:

Our federal Constitution allows states to create ballot access requirements that ensure that the ballots for every office, including the office of presidential elector, are comprehensible and informative.

A line must of course be drawn between permissible ballot access laws and impermissible attempts to add qualifications to those specified in the federal Constitution. But our research and analysis lead us to conclude that tax return disclosure laws such as the one proposed in California resemble ballot access laws in structure, impact, and purpose much more closely than they resemble laws imposing additional qualifications for presidential office.

As a result, we believe these laws comport fully with the U.S. Constitution.

Unlike prohibited qualifications, these laws do not impose substantive requirements on candidates beyond those imposed by the Constitution itself; that is, these laws do not limit which candidates may run for office based on any particular information in their tax return. Thus, they do not create an insurmountable barrier in advance to any set of individuals otherwise qualified under Article II of our Constitution. Instead, these laws require federally qualified candidates to comply with a relatively minor process of tax disclosure. That is something competing candidates can and should readily do in order to allow voters to make more informed judgments about those contenders’ characters or backgrounds.

The states have legitimate justifications for providing their voters with this important information. The proposed laws mandate transparency rather than interposing obstacles that some would-be candidates cannot overcome.

Tax returns provide information that is more broad, specific, and reliable than the candidate financial disclosure that is currently required. Candidate financial disclosure forms are generally designed to identify and prevent conflicts of interest — and tax return information could serve a similar function.

Indeed, this could be particularly important for a presidential candidate, as the president is exempt from some (but not all) federal laws governing conflicts of interest once in office. Prevention may be not just the best, but the only available medicine in some situations.

Pepperdine University Law Professor Derek Muller, meanwhile, argues that such laws would unconstitutionally impose additional qualifications on those eligible to run for President beyond those prescribed by Article II of the Constitution, something not permitted by the general authority granted to the states regarding the regulation of ballot access:

The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that states can’t use the ballot as a political weapon. In 1964, for instance, Louisiana listed candidates’ race on the ballot. Louisiana maintained it was just providing truthful information to the voters of the state. The Supreme Court struck down the statute on the ground that the ballot was not a vehicle to direct voters to consider a candidate’s race.

In the 1990s, Missouri asked congressional candidates to take a term limits pledge; if they refused to do so, the state would indicate on the ballot that the candidate “declined to pledge to support term limits.” The Supreme Court struck down that ballot provision, too.

Both those cases stand for the proposition that states cannot use their ballots to achieve preferred political or policy outcomes — such as burdening those who prefer to keep some, or all, of their tax information private.

The Supreme Court has, of course, permitted states to regulate access to the ballot for the purposes of separating out serious from frivolous candidates. (Common mechanisms include a modest filing fee or securing a sufficient number of voters’ signatures on a petition.) But the New Jersey bill isn’t intended to ensure that only serious candidates appear on the ballot. It’s intended to get Mr. Trump’s tax returns.

It’s understandable that many state legislatures now want presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns: Mr. Trump’s refusal to disclose was, and continues to be, an issue of concern to many voters in New Jersey and across the country. But the ballot is not a form of leverage that may be used to pressure political candidates to meet legislative demands. This issue is best addressed, as it has long been, by the political process.

Of the two arguments, it appears to me that Muller makes the far more persuasive case than Tribe and his co-authors and that any state law requiring candidates for President, or any Federal office, to release tax returns as a price for ballot access, would most likely be held unconstitutional.  The most relevant case on this issue would appear to be US Term Limits v. Thornton, the Missouri case which Muller cites in the text above. In that case, Missouri purported to use ballot access laws as a backdoor to imposing term limits on Members of Congress by denying them ballot access if they have served more than the permitted number of terms, which in that case was three terms for Members of the House and two terms for Senators. Such candidates could still seek reelection via a write-in campaign, but they could not run as either the nominee of a particular party or an Independent candidate. The Court ruled that this provision, which actually became a provision of the state Constitution via a ballot measure, violated the Constitution because it imposed requirement for holding the office of Congressman or Senator beyond those set forth in Article One, Sections Two and Three, and the Seventeen Amendment, which set forth the residency and age limitations for holding those offices. The majority opinion written by Justice John Paul Stevens goes through the history behind the qualifications clauses for Congress, the powers of the states to regulate ballot access and the Tenth Amendment argument that was made in favor of the law before ultimately concluding that the attempt to impose term limit by regulating ballot access was unconstitutional. The argument used by the majority in Thornton would seem to be equally applicable to a state law requiring candidates for President to

The argument used by the majority in Thornton would seem to be equally applicable to a state law requiring candidates for President to would seem to be equally applicable to a state law requiring candidates for President to release their tax returns. As with the Missouri term limits law, such laws would effectively impose qualifications beyond those set forth in Article II, Section One, Clause 5, which have been slightly amended by virtue of the 22nd Amendment to include a bar against a candidate from serving as President for more than two terms, in violation of the Constitution. The effort of Tribe and his co-authors to argue that such laws do not impose additional qualifications is quite simply unpersuasive. The proposed New Jersey law that Muller references, for example, would bar any Presidential candidate from appearing on the General Election ballot unless they have released tax returns for the five most recent years prior to the election in question. Clearly, this is something beyond a law governing ballot access, such as the requirement that a candidate for office submit a certain number of signatures to qualify for the ballot and is more analogous to the term limits that Missouri sought to impose in Thornton. Because of this, it seems clear that a law requiring a candidate for President to release their tax returns as a price for getting on the ballot would be unconstitutional.

These legal arguments are unlikely to put a stop to the political forces that continue to push for Trump to release his returns, of course, and while the protests and moves at the state level are unlikely to change his mind, we could still be heading for a confrontation over this issue before the 2020 election. Somewhere, these activists are likely to succeed in some state or another. At that point, lawsuits will be filed and the matter will head to the Courts and, eventually, the Supreme Court. Unless the Supreme Court rejects the central argument of Justice Stevens’s majority opinion in Thornton, though, the legal fate of such laws seems clear. In any case, the outcome of the election last November would seem to indicate that, while voters believe candidates for President should release their tax returns, they don’t necessarily base their vote on whether or not that has actually happened. In that case, this weekend’s protests may have largely been in vain.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. al-Alameda says:

    The majority opinion written by Justice John Paul Stevens goes through the history behind the qualifications clauses for Congress, the powers of the states to regulate ballot access and the Tenth Amendment argument that was made in favor of the law before ultimately concluding that the attempt to impose term limit by regulating ballot access was unconstitutional.

    I agree with you and the great Justice Stevens.

    However, I like all of this as political theater because it keeps reminding people that Trump does not believe that rules, customs and traditions apply to him. His tax returns will not see the light of day unless they are leaked to the press.

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  2. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I am not a lawyer so I don’t see the arguments as so cut and dried as either side seems to. I will say this tho: Regardless of anything Justice Stevens said in US Term Limits v. Thornton, we have term limits here in Missouri.

    Seems to me there is more than one way to skin a cat.

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  3. KM says:

    I find Tribe’s logic to be more compelling then Muller. Signing a pledge is different then requiring a form to be submitted – the pledge is an expectation of action and behaviors based on an agenda whereas the tax forms are legal documentation with (theoretically) agenda-free information. While I cannot say the information won’t be used for political ploys, the forms themselves are neutral and should be as damaging to a candidate as your DMV renewal forms.

    I’m curious then, by what logic do we currently use to get required disclosed information that’s not deemed an unconstitutional bar? What makes taxes any different?

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  4. gVOR08 says:

    Trump won because a few more rural (exurban really) voters turned out and by shear luck, some of them in just the right states. All national elections are now turnout elections. Trumpsky can and must be used to motivate D turnout.

    Republicans passed what, 70, pointless repeals of Obamacare and stopped doing it only when it ceased being a futile gesture. But it wasn’t pointless, it reinforced the lie that Obamacare is bad and showed their base that they were fighting it. Don’t Democrats get to signal?

    No returns, no “reform”.

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  5. @KM:

    Candidates are required to submit certain information to the FEC in order to participate in the fundraising system and qualify for matching funds. That is different from a law regulating access to the ballot, and stating that a candidate who fails to disclose tax returns cannot appear on the ballot notwithstanding the fact that they meet the requirements to be POTUS set forth in the Constitution.

    Also, the financial disclosures are a matter of Federal law, not state law, and Congress cannot forbid someone from appearing on a state ballot either as long as they meet the requirements for the office set forth in the Constitution and comply with applicable ballot access laws.

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  6. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Thanx for the clarification, Doug.

    ETA: Heyyyyy…. what happened to Doug’s reply to me that he misguided to Al Ameida? 😉 I figured it out Doug.

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  7. @OzarkHillbilly:

    You have term limits for state officials, not Federal officials. Thornton was only concerned with the term limits for Members of Congress and Senators.

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  8. @gVOR08:

    Nothing prevents voters from deciding on their own that the failure to provide tax returns is a reason to vote against someone, it’s simply stating that states cannot impose additional requirements on running for and holding Federal elected offices beyond those set forth in the Constitution.

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  9. KM says:

    @Doug Mataconis :

    Also, the financial disclosures are a matter of Federal law, not state law, and Congress cannot forbid someone from appearing on a state ballot either as long as they meet the requirements for the office set forth in the Constitution and comply with applicable ballot access laws.

    Easy way around that then: require a state tax return for every state you wish to be on the ballot for. Candidates would make token income (hell, $1 would do from literally anyone who “hires” them for a day) from each state, file the paperwork and then be required to present it. The relevant ones would be their home / business states, of course and the information wouldn’t be as complete but its a start.

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  10. gVOR08 says:

    @Doug Mataconis: It isn’t about getting his tax returns, it’s about signalling that he’s illegitimate. And because he’s illegitimate the supposedly liberal MSM narrative should be mocking and in ’18 Dems should turn out in droves. Why would anyone who understands what’s going on do anything to legitimatize Trumpsky?

    No returns, no “reform”.

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  11. @KM:

    If you make i t a requirement for ballot access it would still violate the Constitution regardless of whether it’s a Federal return or a state return.

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  12. MarkedMan says:

    To this layman Thornton seems very different. But in the end, I suspect it doesn’t matter. There are legal arguments on either side and the Republican justices have shown over and over that they will be persuaded to the side that favors whoever or whatever they deem most Republican.

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  13. Jack says:

    “How can we determine his conflicts of interest or stop him from receiving payments from foreign governments if he won’t show us the names of the people and corporations that he is in active partnership with all over the world?” said Representative Jamie Raskin, Democrat of Maryland, who appeared at the Washington rally.

    Doug,

    Exactly which tax schedules include the information on “payments form foreign governments”, and “names of people and corporations in active partnerships”? Wouldn’t these people be better off looking at the Trump annual report to shareholders…which is already available?

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  14. @Jack:

    Well, that’s not my argument, that’s someone else’s so I can’t speak to it except to say that ,personally, I’ve always been skeptical of either the importance or relevance of tax returns for political candidates. You’re right that returns won’t show us much in regard to who Trump owes money to or potential conflicts of interest, though.

    One some quibble, though. The Trump Organization, which is the holding company for all of Trump’s businesses, doesn’t appear to have shareholders, nor is it a publicly traded company. This means that it doesn’t have the same legal obligations to release reports to the SEC or other organizations. Instead, it appears to be an inter-connected group of privately-held corporations, LLCs, and partnerships the principal owners of which are all members of the Trump family or close family associate. These types of organizations are not legally required to release the same kind of information that publicly-traded companies are required to release.

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  15. Jack says:

    @Doug Mataconis: So, even if forced to provide actual taxes, all anyone will see is numbers.

    But taxes are not what this is about now, is it?

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  16. @Jack:

    No, it’s political, and I understand that part. If voters want to hold it against Trump that he won’t release his returns, that’s their choice. I’m really only focusing on the idea of whether or not the states, or Congress, could require a candidate to make such disclosures.

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  17. Tyrell says:

    I don’t give a dern about Trump’s taxes. The same goes for Buffett, Hillary, Jimmy Carter, President Obama,Lebron James, Tom Brady, Taylor Swift, Willy Nelson, and these other big shots. I only care about mine.They have their tax strategies and deductions, I have mine (see “The Firm” for the way some of the tax deferments work).
    Some people don’t get a mortgage deduction. I do. Is that fair? I don’t know. I came out okay this year: not great, but not bad.
    Income: about the same as it has been for the last ten or so years.
    SS: should not be taxed on anyone.
    Deductions: The medical expenses should be a straight deduction, not that percent of income foolishness. That would help offset some of the huge
    increases in premium costs.
    Interest: no tax should be taken on interest earned in savings and other funds.
    People should be encouraged to save and invest.
    Interest on loans: Credit card interest and personal loan interest should also be deductible. This would encourage people to buy cars, computers, furniture, clothes, and vacations. This spending would help the economy. School expenses and tuition should definitely be covered.
    All these “tax day” demonstrations: okay, but they should be out there demonstrating for a tax cut for the middle class working people. And tax reform.The tax forms are too complicated.
    Actually the tax day is Tuesday, April 18, not last Saturday.
    That health insurance mandate tax ? A tax preparer told me there are about eight ways around it and he has always gets people out of paying it.
    UC-Berkeley: another violent demonstration riot Saturday. What gives out there with those people ? That is supposed to be the intellectual center. Now it looks more like a biker gang rally all the time.

    “Trailer for sale or rent, rooms to let fifty cent; I’m a man of means by no means, King of the Road !” (the amazing Roger Miller)

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  18. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @KM:

    I agree. Imposing this requirement doesn’t limit the successful candidate in any way or require him/her to agree to something (term limits) which isn’t already spelled out in the Constitution.

    The public has a legitimate interest in evaluating the character and qualifications of the candidates presented to them for consideration. Whether or not a person files his/her taxes, the nature of any potential fraud which the candidate’s tax returns may reveal, etc. outweighs any privacy concerns which may be present, and the disclosure remains voluntary. Nobody is forcing the candidate to release anything. He/she has the choice of submitting to disclosure (something which they are already somewhat subjected to) in order to run for office.

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  19. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    These types of organizations are not legally required to release the same kind of information that publicly-traded companies are required to release

    Did I miss some requirement here that would force that particular umbrella LLC to release its 1065/1120? (Yes, I know the difference, and yes, I know which one it actually files. I’m debarred from revealing that information, hence the ambiguity.)

    You’re bright enough not to be conflating personal and business returns.

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  20. An Interested Party says:

    Interesting that so many who are screaming about how the Clintons are supposedly so connected to Russian interests don’t seem to care much at all about Trump’s shady dealings and connections…

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  21. @HarvardLaw92:

    No, but there’s no legal requirement that this information be released either. Also, if Trump himself is being audited it’s more than likely that the various entities in which he has an interest are probably being examined as well. While that doesn’t mean he can’t release the information voluntarily, of course, as I said in the post it may be the case that his legal advisers are recommending that he not do so. And I can certainly understand why they’d do that.

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  22. @HarvardLaw92:

    Imposing this requirement doesn’t limit the successful candidate in any way or require him/her to agree to something (term limits) which isn’t already spelled out in the Constitution.

    Where in the Constitution is a candidate required to release personal financial information to be a candidate for President or any other Federal office?

    As a matter of policy, I honestly don’t care one way or the other if candidates release their returns or not. Generally speaking, such documents don’t tell us much of anything about a candidate or his financial condition. I understand, though, that for at least some voters it is important, and they’re entitled to base their voting decision on whether or not a candidate has released that information and what the documents reveal if they have. That’s a different matter, though, from the question of whether or not the States, or Congress, can make releasing those documents a requirement for appearing on the ballot in November. Although it would be a case of first impression if it ever makes its way to a Federal Court, it seems to me that the precedent in Thornton is a strong argument against the constitutionality of such a law. Perhaps we’ll get to find out sometime between now and 2020.

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  23. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    No, but there’s no legal requirement that this information be released either

    It isn’t being released. Trump’s personal 1040 would, and while that would reveal the portion of passthrough attributable to Trump, take my word that he’s not remotely the only person drawing water from that well.

    Also, if Trump himself is being audited

    The president and vice president are audited every year, as a matter of IRS policy. They have been since Nixon / Agnew. Let Trump try to circumvent that one, and then sit back and watch the fireworks.

    Where in the Constitution is a candidate required to release personal financial information to be a candidate for President or any other Federal office?

    Where is the Constitution are states debarred from imposing criteria for ballot access?

    it seems to me that the precedent in Thornton is a strong argument against the constitutionality of such a law.

    And I disagree. Quoting Thornton:

    state-imposed restrictions, unlike the congressionally imposed restrictions at issue in Powell, violate a third idea central to this basic principle: that the right to choose representatives belongs not to the States, but to the people

    The Constitution specifically and explicitly denies to those same people the right to directly elect either a president or a vice president, and electors are constitutionally permitted to vote for whomever they please. You really expect SCOTUS to have a problem with state laws ostensibly denying to the people something that the Constitution doesn’t permit to them to begin with?

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  24. @HarvardLaw92:

    Where is the Constitution are states debarred from imposing criteria for ballot access?

    The Constitution gives states the duty of setting the time, place and manner of elections. Reasonably, that also includes some minimum requirements for qualifying for a presence on the ballot such as demonstrating at least a nominal level of support via something such as a ballot access petition or, as many states do, the option of skipping the signature requirement by paying a reasonable fee. Even there, though, Although I see where your argument is coming from, I think ballot access laws are easily distinguishable from a law about disclosing tax returns, something that is, at best, only tangentially and remotely related to ballot access.

    As for your attempt to distinguish Thornton from a Presidential election scenario, I don’t think the existence of the Electoral College or how it operates would be relevant to applying that case to these facts. I also don’t think a SCOTUS would view it that way given Thornton. How is a law like this not imposing a qualification for office over and above what Article II and the 22nd Amendment say?

    In any event, this would be a case of first impression assuming it got that far. I’m not sure it will, though. While polling says that people think candidate tax returns should be released, it’s not at all clear they care enough about it to give the effort to turn that into a law the momentum needed to turn it into a law. So far at least, there’s little indication that they care enough to even make it a significant issue when it comes to deciding who they’re going to vote for on Election Day.

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  25. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    The Constitution gives states the duty of setting the time, place and manner of elections.

    Read it again. The Constitution gives states the power to set those considerations with respect to the election of representatives and senators, which is why that clause lives within Article I.

    Article 2 says nothing about the direct election of a president, and it specifically empowers states to appoint electors. There is nothing – zero – in the constitution conferring any right of the people to elect a president.

    How is a law like this not imposing a qualification for office over and above what Article II and the 22nd Amendment say?

    Because it does not subsequently limit the ability of electors from said states to select the refusing person as their choice for the presidency . Thornton dealt with candidates who are directly selected by the people. Barring those candidates access to the ballot directly denies to them the ability to serve. Presidents are a different ballgame. We won’t even get into the fact that it would essentially legislate that which already exists and has historically been widely embraced by candidates of both major parties (and most others, to be frank about it).

    You’re comparing apples to oranges.

    That having been said – the only real benefit here is applying pressure to Trump. It’s just another “wonder what he’s trying to hide” cudgel with which to beat him about the head.

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  26. @HarvardLaw92:

    I understand the argument your making. Practically speaking, though, I think it is, and is likely to be viewed as a distinction without a real difference.

    In any case, perhapss we’ll find out some time in the next three years.

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  27. Tyrell says:

    Yes, Rachel had her “Al Capone vault” moment and walked right into that one. But that does springboard some neat ideas for future shows:
    “The missing pages of John Wilkes Booth’s Diary ”, with special guest – descendant of the Booth family.
    “Raiders of the Lost Ark”: Rachel and special guest Harrison Ford go on location to an actual archaeological dig in Egypt ! Complete with the snake whip !
    “Goldfinger Sequel”: Rachel and Ron Paul pay a visit to Ft. Knox and try to get in.
    These type of adventures would definitely liven and lighten up her show. And probably bring a 100% increase in viewers !

    “Well, I guess that’s all there is”

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  28. @Tyrell:

    Other ideas:

    “Rachel goes to the Grassy Knoll”

    “What really happened to the Titanic: A Rachel Maddow Special”

    “Roswell, New Mexico: Boring desert stopover, or alien invasion site?”

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  29. An Interested Party says:

    Yes, Rachel had her “Al Capone vault” moment and walked right into that one.

    Indeed…to rubes like you, the fact that Rachel Maddow ended up with egg on her face is much more important than whatever nefarious secrets Trump is hiding in his tax returns…

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  30. Lit3Bolt says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    The fact that you are uninterested in Donald Trump’s tax returns is more reveling than anything.

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  31. Tyrell says:

    @Lit3Bolt: Oh come on now. Let’s not get all bent out of shape over this. I would say tax reform is a lot more important issue.
    I know a tax accountant who makes a pretty good income by my standards. He told me he hasn’t paid one cent of federal income tax since he was twenty six. And it is all legal. Now that is the tax returns I would like to see.
    Just calm down !!

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  32. @Lit3Bolt:

    I’m not interested in Clinton’s tax returns either, or Bernie Sanders’, or Gary Johnson’s. Or those of any other politician.

    Nor am I interested in their college transcripts.

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  33. gVOR08 says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    While that doesn’t mean he can’t release the information voluntarily, of course, as I said in the post it may be the case that his legal advisers are recommending that he not do so.

    In that case I would hope his legal advisers would have also advised him to not run for president, Running for president created, if not a requirement, a reasonable expectation that he would release returns. Remember, nobody drafted him to run, he put himself in this position.

    Trump could provide data to end all speculation about his finances. As he has chosen not to, we’re free to speculate to our hearts content about what he’s hiding. My favorite speculation is that he’s up to his eyebrows in debt to Alfa Bank, which has him by the nads.

    No taxation without returns.

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  34. Gustopher says:

    What about alternative strategies?

    Candidates are listed alphabetically in two groups — those whose parties got more than 5% in the previous election, and who have made their tax returns public, and the rest, who are all lumped together.

    Candidates who have not released their tax returns are not listed, their electors are (after all, we vote for electors). Good luck figuring out if Elizabeth “Lizard” People is a candidate for the crazy party or a Trump elector.

    Signatures for ballot qualification must be submitted either with a copy of the candidates tax returns, or additional signatures from each person attesting that they know the candidate has not released their tax returns, and they are ok with that.

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  35. teve tory says:

    The fact that 27%* of the American people don’t seem to give a shit that the POTUS might owe lots of money to corrupt Kremlin-associated billionaires, and lies all the time as a matter of course, makes me wonder how a species this stupid ever managed to build computers, or fly to Mars. Must be a shitload of Variance on that IQ bell curve.

    (* to first approximation.)

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  36. Trump’s tax returns aren’t going to tells us a darn thing about who he owes money to.

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  37. Tyrell says:

    @teve tory: No, the middle class working people are trying to get their own taxes finished up and hopefully getting the best they can – either a nice refund or not have to pay a lot. That is what most people are focused on, not some politicians’ returns such as the news media seems obsessed with.

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  38. Pch101 says:

    Generally speaking, I would like to see this tax return “tradition” die off altogether. That stuff is personal and none of our business.

    But Trump is a special case because he claimed to be a fantastic, terrific candidate due to his fantastic, terrific business success. (Multiple bankruptcies must be a sign of brilliance.) Talk is cheap; make him prove it.

    In any case, Trump is a grifter and a crook, and there should be a team of forensic accountants to crawl up his backside and figure out what he’s really about. Tax returns would be just the beginning — they probably aren’t accurate, anyway.

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  39. Tyrell says:

    @Pch101: Yes, the tax return thing is just another gimmick. But if they drop that, what will they go to next – library reading list ? Movie rentals ? Middle school behavior records ?

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