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Supreme Court of the United States

Will SCOTUS Protect NAACP v. Alabama's Legacy? 5 Clues From Monday's Arguments

By Sarah Kramer posted on:
April 30, 2021

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the consolidated cases, Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Bonta and Thomas More Law Center v. Bonta. And how it rules in these cases could impact the legacy of a 60-year-old landmark Supreme Court ruling.

In 1956, the Civil Rights Movement was making significant progress. And pro-segregation officials in Alabama took notice.

In an effort to slow this momentum, Alabama officials sued the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (or the NAACP), challenged its ability to do business in Alabama, and demanded a list of its members in the state. But that would have opened up NAACP members to incredible harm, such as job loss, harassment, and violence. Which is why the NAACP couldn’t agree to this demand. And Alabama wasn’t the only state with an agenda. In fact, NAACP chapters in the South lost more than 50 percent of their members over a two-year period because of intimidation like this.

So, the NAACP decided to do something about it and filed a lawsuit against the State of Alabama.

Eventually, two years later in 1958, NAACP v. Alabama made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. And, thankfully, the Court ruled that demanding the NAACP's membership list was unconstitutional, allowing the NAACP to continue its important work in Alabama and elsewhere.

Unfortunately, the NAACP's victory is now being undermined in California, where the state attorney general's office is demanding that nonprofits disclose their donor lists in order to fundraise in the state.

Sound familiar?

Much like Alabama’s demand back in 1956, California’s demand will also have disastrous consequences. Given how divided our national public discourse is, people are understandably concerned that if their private beliefs are exposed, there will be public repercussions—whether from the government or from their fellow citizens.

But every American should be free to peacefully support causes they believe in without fear of harassment or intimidation.

That’s why our client Thomas More Law Center took a stand. And earlier this week, ADF represented them before the Supreme Court.

Thankfully, during Monday’s oral argument, many of the justices seemed concerned about protecting donor privacy and free speech and association:

  1. Chief Justice John Roberts questioned how requiring thousands of charities to obtain individual exemptions from the donor-disclosure requirement would work.
  2. Justice Brett Kavanaugh recognized that groups across the political spectrum—including the American Civil Liberties Union, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and Human Rights Campaign—are concerned that California’s disclosure rule will chill free speech and association.
  3. Justice Clarence Thomas noted that the government used confidential census data to locate Japanese citizens for internment during World War II and worried about today’s toxic climate, where people are loosely labeled “racist” or “white supremacist.”
  4. Justice Samuel Alito pointed out that the district court found California’s security lapses “shocking,” and Justice Sonia Sotomayor added that reasonable donors might no longer have faith in California.
  5. Justice Neil Gorsuch expressed concern that ruling for California could allow the government to mandate the disclosure of other personal information, like citizens’ Christmas card lists or dating history.

Requiring all nonprofits to disclose their major donors’ names and addresses is needless and dangerous. And it must be stopped. Please join us in praying that the Supreme Court does just that by ruling in favor of Thomas More Law Center, protecting the legacy of NAACP v. Alabama.

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Sarah Kramer

Sarah Kramer

Digital Content Specialist

Sarah worked as an investigative reporter before joining the Alliance Defending Freedom team.

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