California Attorney General Quietly Submits to Supreme Court’s Landmark First Amendment Decision

July 28, 2021

Without fanfare, the California Attorney General’s Office changed its long-standing regulations after the U. S. Supreme Court handed down a landmark First Amendment decision which held that Americans are free to support nonprofit organizations without fear of harassment.

On July 1, 2021, in a 6-3 decision, the U. S. Supreme Court sided with the Thomas More Law Center (TMLC), a leading national public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. In doing so, the Court held that California’s regulations mandating all charities which solicit donations within the state submit major donors’ personal information were facially unconstitutional. The Attorney General’s Charities homepage now reads:

“Effective July 1, 2021, the Registry of Charitable Trusts will no longer require the filing of Schedule B to the IRS Form 990 as part of the registration and annual reporting requirements.”

Thus ended a 6-year legal battle sparked by a threatening letter to TMLC from then – California Attorney General, Kamala Harris. The letter, dated March 24, 2015, threatened that if the Law Center did not provide her office with a list of its major donors (anyone who had given $5000 or more) within 30 days, the Law Center could lose its right to solicit donations in California, and TMLC’s officers and tax preparers could be held personally liable for any penalties.

Rather than succumb to the threat, TMLC filed a lawsuit against Attorney General Harris in a California Federal District Court on April 23, 2015. Its win in the District Court, however, was reversed by the U. S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. On August 26, 2019, TMLC asked the U.S. Supreme Court (petition for certiorari) to review the Ninth Circuit’s ruling.

The Supreme Court agreed. On April 26, 2021, the Court heard oral arguments from all sides, and rendered its decision on July 1, 2021, a date all freedom loving Americans should remember.

Richard Thompson, TMLC’s President and Chief Counsel, praised the work of San Francisco based attorney, Louis H. Castoria who singlehandedly opposed a phalanx of California assistant district attorneys, and won; and the great appellate work of John J. Bursch and the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) legal team who represented TMLC in the Supreme Court.

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