Skip Navigation

Fair Courts E-Lert: SCOTUS Considering Cases Challenging California’s Donor Disclosure Law

This Fair Courts E-Lert highlights the U.S. Supreme Court’s consideration of cases challenging California’s Donor Disclosure Law, the Kansas Supreme Court’s decision to dismiss a lawsuit against the state legislature over court funding, and more.

Published: January 27, 2020

Federal Courts

U.S. Supreme Court Considering Challenges to California Donor Disclosure Law

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court is considering whether it will take up two challenges to a California law “aimed at preventing fraud among charitable organizations,” according to The New Republic.

The cases, Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Becerra and Thomas More Law Center v. Becerra, claim the state’s requirement that tax-exempt groups identify their top donors to the California Attorney General every year violates donors’ First Amendment rights.

Amicus briefs have been filed by several organizations, including groups associated with the Koch brothers, in both cases. As reported by Bloomberg, “California urged the justices not to disturb the lower court ruling. It noted that while ‘confidentiality lapses had occurred in the past,’ the state has ‘had addressed those problems.’”

For the past 20 years, the Brennan Center and the National Institute for Money in Politics have tracked outside spending in judicial elections through The Politics of Judicial Elections series. During the 2015–16 cycle, the Brennan Center found that 82 percent of spending in state supreme court elections was by groups whose funding sources were concealed from the public.

A decision by the justices not to hear the two cases would leave in place the law, which was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit last year.

State Courts

Kansas Supreme Court Dismisses Lawsuit Over Court Funding

On January 22, the Kansas Supreme Court dismissed a lawsuit brought by several trial court judges and one employee of the state’s judicial branch against the state legislature over funding for the state’s court system.

According to the Associated Press, “[t]he lawsuit was filed directly with the Supreme Court and alleged state lawmakers have chronically underfinanced the judicial branch. It asked the court to force legislators to consider funding ‘independent of unrelated political agendas.’” “It came after a ruling from the Supreme Court last year protecting abortion rights, years of legal battles over funding for the state’s public schools and multiple rulings forcing lawmakers to boost education funding.”

In its five-page decision dismissing the case, the Kansas Supreme Court said that allowing the lawsuit to proceed “would necessarily impede crucial inter-branch discussions aimed at allowing the Legislature to fulfill its constitutional obligation to fund the judicial branch.” “We are confident at this juncture that the matters Petitioners raise are better handled through inter-branch cooperation,” the court concluded.

West Virginia Legislature Considering Change to the State’s Supreme Court Elections

The West Virginia House of Delegates is considering a bill that would change how the state elects state supreme court justices.

The bill, HB 2008, would “require at least one Supreme Court candidate to receive at least 40 percent of the vote in the nonpartisan contest. If that does not happen, the top two candidates will face off in a runoff election,” according to MetroNews.

The bill’s lead sponsor, Delegate Daryl Cowles (R- Morgan), stated that, “[t]he genesis of the bill is to make sure that our choice for the Supreme Court of Appeals is someone that enjoys public support and is a legitimate representative of the people.”

HB 2008 was approved by the House Judiciary Committee on January 9 with an amendment that would make the 40 percent threshold applicable to this year’s election.

Alaska Supreme Court Justice Craig Stowers Announces Retirement

Earlier this month, Justice Craig Stowers announced his plan to retire from the Alaska Supreme Court on June 1. Stowers served on the court since 2009, most recently as Chief Justice from 2015–2018.

The Alaska Judicial Council released a statement calling for applications by February 14 and is expected to meet in May to review the applications. The Judicial Council will then submit its recommendations to Gov. Mike Dunleavy, who will have forty-five days to fill Stowers’ vacancy.

According to a recent Brennan Center report, State Supreme Court Diversity, Alaska was one of 24 states with an all-white supreme court bench as of May 2019, despite the fact that people of color make up nearly 40 percent of the state’s population. Alaska is also one of the 13 states that have never seated a person of color as justice since at least 1960.