Washington, D.C. – Today, the New Civil Liberties Alliance filed an amicus brief supporting two Writs of Certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court in Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Becerra and Thomas More Law Center v. Becerra. The Petitioners in these related cases are asking the Supreme Court to reverse the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and protect First Amendment rights to free speech, free association, and privacy in one’s associations. NCLA is supporting these writs, because it is concerned that the Ninth Circuit decision below eviscerates the Supreme Court’s landmark 1958 precedent, NAACP v. Alabama ex rel. Patterson.
John Patterson, the attorney-general of Alabama, had demanded membership lists from the local NAACP chapter. The Supreme Court ultimately ruled that the NAACP did not have to divulge its members to the attorney-general because having to do so could deter people from joining the organization. In a parallel bit of modern intimidation, California’s attorney general Xavier Becerra, without authority from any state law, has invented a new, binding obligation on charities that solicit donations in his state. A dictate from his office demands that 501(c)(3) charitable organizations turn over Form 990, Schedule B from their federal tax returns, which is the schedule that lists all of an organization’s largest supporters, to his office.
The attorney-general lacks the power to require groups to turn over their supporter lists when they solicit for their various charitable endeavors. In fact, enforcing his ad hoc rule violates both the California Constitution and the United States Constitution. The Supreme Court should be alarmed that the Attorney General is so openly flouting—and the Ninth Circuit is so blatantly ignoring—the constitutional protections for privacy and associational freedom recognized by the Supreme Court in NAACP v. Alabama ex rel. Patterson.
NCLA believes the Ninth Circuit’s opinion offers little protection to unpopular minorities and erodes constitutional protections for political minorities. It not only undermines the rights of speech and associational freedom; it also impinges on the religious freedom of supporters who want to give anonymously in accordance with the teachings of their religion. This Court should grant the Petitions because the Ninth Circuit misapplied this Court’s long-standing civil rights precedent.
NCLA released the following statements:
“All Americans should be alarmed by the California Attorney General’s barefaced flouting of the constitutional protections for privacy and associational freedom. The Supreme Court acknowledged these protections 60 years ago in NAACP v. Alabama—one of the most significant decisions of the civil rights era. The Court should make it abundantly clear that NAACP is still the definitive authority on First Amendment rights and confirm once and for all that there is a vital, constitutionally protected relationship between the freedom to associate and privacy in one’s associations.”—Michael DeGrandis, NCLA Senior Litigation Counsel
“If charitable supporters are concerned that a charity is defrauding them, they can certainly make the state attorney-general aware of it and tell him how much they contributed to the charity in question. But for the attorney-general to demand supporter lists from ALL charitable organizations—without any suspicion of fraud—is overkill. A drastic action like throwing out the landmark civil rights precedent of NAACP v. Alabama raises obvious questions about the attorney general’s real intentions.”
—Mark Chenoweth, NCLA Executive Director and General Counsel
NCLA is a nonprofit civil rights organization founded by prominent legal scholar Philip Hamburger to protect constitutional freedoms from violations by the Administrative State. NCLA’s public-interest litigation and other pro bono advocacy strive to tame the unlawful power of state and federal agencies and to foster a new civil liberties movement that will help restore Americans’ fundamental rights.