Washington: The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit filed by Maryland and the District of Columbia alleging that President Trump is violating the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, finding that they did not have the standing to sue the president.
The ruling is a major win for Trump, who has frequently sought to prevent others from reviewing his private financial records.
And it’s a sign that other lawsuits alleging similar violations of the Emoluments Clause — including one brought by more than 200 Democratic members of Congress — will face an uphill battle in succeeding.
Trump tweeted on Wednesday morning about the court’s decision, writing: “Word just out that I won a big part of the Deep State and Democrat induced Witch Hunt. Unanimous decision in my favor from The United States Court of Appeals For The Fourth Circuit on the ridiculous Emoluments Case. I don’t make money, but lose a fortune for the honor of serving and doing a great job as your President (including accepting Zero salary!).”
In the opinion, Judge Paul Niemeyer wrote that the claims that government officials are staying at Trump’s Washington, D.C., hotel in order to benefit the president and not due to other factors “requires speculation” and are “simply too attenuated.”
“Indeed, there is a distinct possibility — which was completely ignored by the District and Maryland, as well as by the district court — that certain government officials might avoid patronizing the Hotel because of the President’s association with it,” Niemeyer, who was appointed by former President George H.W. Bush, wrote.
“And, even if government officials were patronizing the Hotel to curry the President’s favor, there is no reason to conclude that they would cease doing so were the President enjoined from receiving income from the Hotel,” he continued. “After all, the Hotel would still be publicly associated with the President, would still bear his name, and would still financially benefit members of his family.”
Maryland and D.C. filed the lawsuit two years ago, alleging that Trump has violated both the foreign and domestic emoluments clauses of the Constitution by continuing to profit from his ownership of the Trump International Hotel while in office.
A district court in Maryland originally ruled in their favor, finding that the local governments had standing to file the complaints, as the president’s hotel may draw guests away from government-owned properties.
But Wednesday’s ruling found that the lower court did not fully consider the “novel” legal questions raised by such a lawsuit.
“To allow such a suit to go forward in the district court without a resolution of the controlling issues by a court of appeals could result in an unnecessary intrusion into the duties and affairs of a sitting President,” Niemeyer wrote.
Circuit Judge A. Marvin Quattlebaum Jr. — a Trump appointee — and senior Circuit Judge Dennis Shedd, appointed by former President George W. Bush, joined Niemeyer in the opinion.
If the lawsuit had been allowed to move forward, government officials could have had access to financial records relating to Trump and his hotel. The attorneys general of Maryland and Washington, D.C., said shortly after the lawsuit’s filing that they would seek Trump’s tax returns as part of the legal proceedings.
Trump is seeking to stop the similar lawsuit brought by the Democratic lawmakers, which claims that the president is violating the Emoluments Clause by continuing to profit by foreign governments while in office. The Justice Department earlier this week after the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to block the lawsuit after a district judge ruled that it could proceed.
Later the same day, the Democrats announced that they had issued several subpoenas to Trump’s private businesses, including the Trump Organization, as part of the lawsuit.
Jay Sekulow, a lawyer for Trump, released a statement that cheered the ruling. “Today’s pair of decisions by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals is a complete victory,” he told Reuters. “This latest effort at presidential harassment has been dismissed with prejudice.”
Racine and Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh issued a joint statement that said the panel of judges “got it wrong,” and that they will continue to pursue their legal options.
They said the court “failed to acknowledge the most extraordinary circumstance of all: President Trump is brazenly profiting from the Office of the President in ways that no other President in history ever imagined and that the founders expressly sought — in the Constitution — to prohibit,” Frosh and Racine wrote.
The pair said they would continue their legal efforts to “hold President Trump accountable” for what they viewed as his violation of the emoluments clauses.
The Department of Justice said it was pleased that the court had ruled to dismiss the case, which it called “extraordinarily flawed.”
“The court correctly determined that the plaintiffs improperly asked the courts to exceed their constitutional role by reviewing the President’s compliance with the Emoluments Clauses,” Justice Department spokesperson Kelly Laco said in a statement.