by Jon Guze
Senior Fellow, Legal Studies, John Locke Foundation
That’s the title of a recent piece by Civil rights leader Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. explaining why he is pleased with the US Supreme Court’s decision in Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Bonta:
As a former executive director and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and a statewide youth assistant to Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s, I believe this ruling presents one of the most significant wins for civil rights in decades.
It is important to note that even though the majority conservative Supreme Court has restricted Americans’ voting rights, that same highest court in the nation just ruled in favor of protecting the freedom of Americans to support civil rights organizations and other social justice nonprofits.
In taking the side of AFPF, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and many other nonprofit organizations, the high court invalidated the State of California’s mandate requiring tax-exempt charities to release the names of their largest donors. That’s good news because the demand is entirely tone-deaf to the American people’s freedom to freely associate with outside groups without fear of retribution, which the high court upheld during the civil rights movement. …
[T]he Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals argued in the AFPF case that, “the interests served by disclosure outside the electoral context, such as policing types of charitable fraud, pale in comparison to the crucial importance of ensuring our election system is free from corruption or its appearance.”
The Appeals Court’s election argument has few legs to stand on. The AFPF case deals not with elections but with the narrow question of whether attorneys general can force 501(c)(3) organizations to disclose their supporters to the state. To categorize this issue as one of campaign finance is entirely disingenuous.
Thankfully, the Supreme Court understands that supporting causes is not the same as supporting candidates. That is why, in its July 1 overturning of the Ninth Circuit’s decision, Justice John Roberts wrote that the majority “found little evidence that the Attorney General’s investigators relied on Schedule Bs to detect charitable fraud” and “determined that the disclosure regime burdened the associational rights of donors.”
The high court deserves praise for yet again defending the rights of Americans who privately support activism efforts of paramount importance to the citizenry’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The ruling in AFPF will protect not only civil rights but the causes of every underserved and underrepresented segment of the population that are worth fighting for each day.
I speak for all activists when I say that this is an opinion no one will soon forget.