Supreme Court to Decide if California Is Essentially Creating a Cancel Culture Hit List

A diverse collection of 60 interest groups was at the Supreme Court on Monday, participating in the next round in a legal battle over donor privacy with the state of California.

The coalition of organizations included several Christian and Muslim organizations, Planned Parenthood, and even a pro-gay human rights campaign. 

The organizations are fighting a California law demanding non-profits disclose their major donor lists. The state argues it needs the names to determine if a charity is misusing its assets.

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The court agreed to hear the case after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled that Thomas More Law Center (TMLC) —and all other nonprofits who solicit donations in California—must disclose the names and addresses of major donors to the California attorney general on an annual basis.

Opening arguments began before the court Monday. Court watchers said no one on the court seemed prepared to uphold an appeals court ruling that the information serves the important state goal of preventing charities from committing fraud.

The court’s six conservative justices, in particular, seemed to agree that the potential for the names of donors to become public — even though the information is supposed to be closely guarded by the state — might be enough to doom the state’s policy.

“In this era, there seem to be quite a bit of loose accusations about organizations, for example, an organization that had certain views might be accused of being a white supremacist organization or racist or homophobic, something like that, and, as a result, become quite controversial,” Justice Clarence Thomas said.

The Wall Street Journal reports many nonprofits provide the federal government with the names and addresses of major donors, generally those giving $5,000 a year, on an IRS form called a Schedule B. The legal question the court must answer is whether California can set a blanket policy of demanding copies of Schedule Bs.

The non-profits say donors are entitled to their privacy, particularly since taking a stand on issues like abortion, religious liberties, and gay and transgender rights can bring social media backlash, including the posting of private information like home addresses, places of business, even children’s names and images. 

According to the religious rights law firm Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the employees, clients, and supporters of the TMLC, a legal nonprofit in Michigan, have been victims of cancel culture run amok. They have received hate mail, death threats, and harassment from ideological opponents. TMLC promotes faith and family values and protects the sanctity of human life.

Roughly 5% of its donors are California residents, and it has operated as a charity in good standing with California’s attorney general for many years. However, in March 2012, the Attorney General’s Office began to harass the law center and demand the names and addresses of its major donors.

On Monday, the ADF, which is representing the Thomas More Law Center, filed its opening brief at the Court, standing alongside the coalition of organizations. 

“Sixty years ago, this Court struck down an indistinguishable demand that the NAACP turn over its member list for reasons that apply equally here,” the ADF opening brief to the Supreme Court explains. “First, ‘effective advocacy of both public and private points of view, particularly controversial ones, is undeniably enhanced by group association.’ And second, ‘compelled disclosure of affiliation with groups engaged in advocacy may constitute as effective a restraint on freedom of association as’ direct government bans. As the district court found, a blanket-disclosure policy creates risks to charitable organizations and their donors that chill First Amendment rights. And the Attorney General does so for no compelling reason” {citations omitted}.

California says it can protect the information, but the groups argue databases can be hacked and information is often leaked.

In fact, after California demanded that hundreds of nonprofits hand over their major donor information, the state leaked that information—including names and addresses—online to the public. For a period of time, anyone with a web browser could find this confidential information, according to the ADF. 

“Every American should be free to support causes they believe in without fear of harassment or intimidation,” said ADF Senior Counsel John Bursch. “Given that the California Attorney General’s office hardly ever uses supporter information for any purpose, there’s simply no justification for forcing charities to disclose their supporters’ names and addresses and making freedom of association a pipe dream.”

In its op-ed article, The Wall Street Journal’s Editorial Board also pointed to the unending harassment of Colorado baker Jack Phillips, who declined to make a cake that endorsed a gay wedding. 

“Is it any wonder that a donor to a nonprofit legally defending him might fear disclosure? Ditto for causes on the left like Planned Parenthood,” the newspaper’s editorial board said. “The First Amendment guarantees free association. That includes private association.”

Watch the ADF’s video explaining the case below:

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