There are two stories worth reading about the role California might play in the years ahead as an opposition foil to Donald Trump. Democrats control the state – the governor’s mansion, combined with supermajorities in both chambers of the state legislature. Essentially, California will – possibly in tandem with other states like New York, Massachusetts and Illinois – assume the role that states like Texas played during the Obama presidency.
First, this story from NPR:
There are several ways the state may challenge Trump and congressional Republicans. It may simply choose not to not enforce some federal laws it disagrees with and enact stronger state laws around environmental and consumer regulations. The state is also likely to aggressively file lawsuits against the federal government.
To that end, Brown’s pick to be California’s next attorney general, Congressman Xavier Becerra will play a high-profile role. Becerra said the state isn’t looking to pick fights but won’t be afraid to go to court either.
“My obligation is to protect my state, to promote the interests of my state,” said Becerra.
It may sound unusual for a liberal state like California to resort to an appeal to states’ rights. For the past eight years, conservative states have argued for their autonomy with respect to the federal government.
But states are opportunistic about their use of states’ rights arguments and tend to employ them when their party doesn’t control Washington, says Carlton Larson, a law professor at the University of California, Davis. Still, Larson says California may want to be careful about how much it uses that argument.
“If we were to push back very, very heavily against federal law, there’s a real danger,” that environmental and civil rights laws that depend on a broad reading of federal law could be endangered, said Larson.
Democrats have already introduced one bill to better train defense attorneys on immigration law and another to fund legal representation for people facing deportation. Both are “urgency measures” meaning they would take effect immediately if they muster a two-thirds vote. The programs are expected to cost millions of dollars.
Second, this Los Angeles Times story about a bill proposed by California legislators – hard to see this as anything other than a direct slap at Donald Trump after his refusal to release his tax returns – requiring presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns as a prerequisite to appear on California’s presidential ballot in 2020, based on a similar proposal circulating in the New York state legislature.
The precedent of presidential candidates releasing their tax returns to the public goes back to George Romney, who released a decade’s worth of returns in his unsuccessful run for the Republican nomination during the 1968 presidential campaign. This practice – not a legal requirement – was observed by candidates from both parties in every election since 1976. Mitt Romney only released two years’ worth of tax returns in the 2012 election, which he was harshly criticized for by Democrats and transparency advocates. Donald Trump didn’t release any of his tax returns, though pages from a 1995 state tax return were eventually leaked to the New York Times by an anonymous source.
These bills would make disclosure of tax returns a binding legal requirement for presidential candidates. Because election laws and ballot access issues are largely left up to the individual states, California and New York may be able to do this legally. The only potential downside is the fact that Donald Trump won the election without California or New York in his column, so hypothetically he might decide to disregard the law and try organizing a write-in campaign for his supporters in those states.