In a second significant opinion Thursday, the US Supreme Court divided 6-3 along ideological lines to strike down a California law that required charities to privately disclose the identities of major donors to the state attorney general.
State officials had argued that the identities, which not-for-profit charities are allowed to keep secret from the public, would help enforce rules around tax-exempt status and catch potential fraud
A pair of conservative groups that challenged the requirement — and backed by the ACLU, NAACP and others — argued the state was unnecessarily violating the donors’ First Amendment right to free association and that prior leaks of the information exposed donors to harassment and attacks.
Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the conservative majority, sided with the charities, concluding “the Attorney General’s disclosure requirement imposes a widespread burden on donors’ associational rights. And this burden cannot be justified on the ground that the regime is narrowly tailored to investigating charitable wrongdoing, or that the state’s interest in administrative convenience is sufficiently important.”
Justice Roberts wrote that the state did not sufficiently consider alternative means of gathering the information or protecting against fraud. He said the current requirement could create a “chilling effect” on donors because of the state’s documented history of leaks of private donor information.