by Jon Guze
Senior Fellow, Legal Studies, John Locke Foundation
California Attorney General Kamala Harris has attracted a lot of media attention, and not just because, as the President says, "She…happens to be, by far, the best looking attorney general in the country." When she was still District Attorney in San Francisco, Harris made headlines by threatening to imprison the parents of chronically truant school kids, and since becoming California’s Attorney General she’s been in the news for, among other things: challenging the right of law-abiding citizens to obtain right-to-carry permits; defending prosecutors who committed perjury, falsified evidence, and engaged in other "egregious, outrageous" conduct; and employing an aide who, along with other members of the "Masonic Fraternal Police Department," was charged with impersonating a police officer.
Now Attorney General Harris is in the news again, this time for forcing an educational foundation and public interest law firm to reveal its list of donors. In a recent Cato.org article entitled "The Right to Anonymous Speech and Association," Ilya Shapiro and Randall John Meyer explain what’s at stake in the case:
Since the Enlightenment, anonymous speech has been an integral component of social change, exemplified by Cato’s Letters, the Federalist Papers, and indeed the Anti-Federalist Papers. Accordingly, [as the Supreme Court observed in NAACP v. Button (1963)] the Constitution provides a wide berth for the proper "breathing space" that "First Amendment freedoms need to survive."…
California’s attorney general, Kamala Harris, has broken with this tradition in demanding that the Center for Competitive Politics (CCP), an educational foundation and public-interest law firm specializing in the First Amendment and political law, disclose its principal donors to the state…. This rule applies to all nonprofit organizations soliciting donations or otherwise operating in California, so the associational chill reaches into the ability of every nonprofit to exist in California while preserving privacy through anonymity….
Shapiro and Meyer note with irony that:
The NAACP is subject to this disclosure regime–the very organization whose resistance to compelled disclosure culminated in the landmark case of NAACP v. Alabama (1958), which protects the right to anonymous association.
The CCP has petitioned the Supreme Court to review the case, and sixteen educational foundations and public-interest law firms have filed amicus briefs in its support, as has the Philanthropy Roundtable.
Interestingly, while the overreach, abuse, and partisanship that have characterized Kamala Harris’s tenure in office are all too common among her peers, when it comes to anonymous speech and association, not every state attorney general accepts her as a model. Last week the attorneys general of Arizona, Michigan, and South Carolina filed an amicus brief in support of CCP’s petition. Unfortunately, Roy Cooper did not join them. However, if the Supreme Court agrees to take the case, he will get another chance to take a stand in support of the Constitutional rights of North Carolinians and of Americans in general. We need more chief law enforcement officers who are willing to do that. Indeed, (with apologies to Gilbert and Sullivan) I am tempted to say: In short in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral, we need a better model of a state attorney general.
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