Donor privacy: Will the Supreme Court unravel 50 years of case law?

On January 8, 2021, the United States Supreme Court granted review to Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Becerra and Thomas More Law Center v. Becerra. Both cases challenged the California attorney general’s requirement that charities disclose major donors’ names and addresses. The Ninth Circuit United States Court of Appeals disagreed with advocacy groups’ arguments that the policy runs afoul of the First Amendment. 

The Supreme Court’s decision will be significant because the Becerra decisions are inconsistent with case law dating back to 1958, when NAACP v. Alabama ex rel. Patterson granted First Amendment protection to the privacy of a group’s members and supporters via rights of free association. Indeed, the NAACP’s amicus brief is frequently quoted in publications across the political spectrum: 

“In an increasingly polarized country, where threats and harassment over the Internet and social media have become commonplace, speaking out on contentious issues creates a very real risk of harassment and intimidation by private citizens and by the government itself….Thus, now, as much as any time in our nation’s history, it is necessary for individuals to be able to express and promote their viewpoints through associational affiliations without personally exposing themselves to a legal, personal, or political firestorm.”

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