What cause could ever possibly unite Christian Right activists, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Zionist Organization of America, “pro-family,” “pro-life,” “pro-choice” and gun-rights lobbies, Mitch McConnell, the American Civil Liberties Union, Chamber of Commerce, Judicial Watch, NAACP, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Planned Parenthood, Southern Poverty Law Center, Columbia University’s First Amendment institute and religious-liberty advocates?
Answer: These and many more are allied in the Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Becerra case (#19-251), which the U.S. Supreme Court put on its upcoming docket January 8.
Yes, that Becerra is Xavier, as in President Biden’s controversial pick for secretary of Health and Human Services, acting in his previous role as California’s attorney general. Moreover, this situation implicates the track record of his predecessor as A.G., Kamala Harris — now U.S. vice president and a major 2024 presidential prospect.
At issue is “donor privacy.” Non-profit groups cannot operate or raise money in the state of California unless they give its attorney general the names and addresses of their major donors, the same list that’s required as an appendix to their federal IRS returns. The non-profits argue that this violates their right to freedom of association under the Constitution’s First Amendment.
Obviously this is something for alert media eyes, including pros on the religion beat.
Adding to news interest, this case displays contrasting beliefs of the U.S. Department of Justice in its Trump Administration brief filed last November (.pdf here) versus its revised stance under the new Biden Administration (.pdf here). The Trump brief strongly backs non-profit interest groups. The Biden brief dodges the question and asks the court to bounce the case for further investigation.
Religion specialists note: The Supreme Court consolidated the Americans for Prosperity case, raised by the libertarian political foundation established by the Koch brothers, with a second appeal from the Thomas More Law Center. This second agency provides free legal representation for “people of faith” to uphold “the religious freedom of Christians, time-honored family values and the sanctity of human life.”
The Muslim council protests that in the era of federal terrorist watchlists, California “imposes a severe burden on protected First Amendment activity.” Former Trump attorney Jay Sekulow’s agency says the Supreme Court must overturn the “muddled” 9th Circuit appeals court’s ruling lest California and others foster ‘harassment and retaliation against those with disfavored political views.”
Though California forbids public disclosure of donor lists, 14 states contend there’s “high” risk the information will go public, if only by mistake. The conservative National Review details past leaks that add to the non-profits’ angst.
Becerra’s reply brief (.pdf here) says the state has remedied those prior problems. He argues that donor identity is far more efficient than subpoenas and audit letters in government’s legitimate investigation of charities for potential fraud or self-dealing. He dismisses contentions about the risk of subjecting donors to “threats, reprisals or harassment.”
Contacts for counsel in the case: For Americans for Prosperity, Derek Shaffer (email@example.com). For Thomas More center, John Bursch of Alliance Defending Freedom (firstname.lastname@example.org). For the California Department of Justice, Aimee Athena Feinberg (Aimee.Feinberg@doj.ca.gov).
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Speaking of contacts, good ones are the reporter’s gold and Hershel Shanks, who died of COVID-19 at age 90, glittered. Unlike many P.R. people making story pitches Time or The Associated Press would never consider, whenever the founding editor of Biblical Archaeology Review phoned, you knew he had a hot tip on intriguing ancient finds.
Journalism was a family heritage since his sister Leah Gordon was Time‘s veteran chief of research. Appropriately, Hershel was honored with an obit by talented former New York Times religion writer Joseph Berger.