A federal appeals court on Thursday revived a lawsuit seeking to block President Trump’s hotel in downtown Washington from accepting payments from foreign and state governments.
In a divided decision tinged with allegations of partisanship, the court refused to dismiss the novel lawsuit that accuses the president of illegally profiting from foreign and state government patrons at his D.C. hotel. The case, brought by the top lawyers for Maryland and the District of Columbia, is one of a set of lawsuits alleging that the president’s private business transactions violate the Constitution’s anti-corruption emoluments ban.
“We recognize that the President is no ordinary petitioner, and we accord him great deference as the head of the Executive branch,” Judge Diana Motz wrote for a majority of nine judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit.
But, she said, Trump has not met the high bar for the court to intervene midstream and “grant the extraordinary relief the President seeks.”
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The majority found a genuine dispute over the definition of an “emolument,” writing: “We can hardly conclude that the President’s preferred definition of this obscure word is clearly and indisputably the correct one.” The court also said subpoenas aimed at the president’s business would not interfere with Trump’s official White House duties.
“The President has not explained, nor do we see, how requests pertaining to spending at a private restaurant and hotel threaten any Executive Branch prerogative,” Motz wrote in the 21-page opinion.
The 9-to-6 ruling revealed deep divisions on the Richmond-based court, which reviews appeals from Maryland. The dissenting judges, whose opinions ran more than three times as long as the majority’s, portrayed their colleagues on the other side as “partisan warriors.” That prompted a separate response from some in the majority who characterized the dissenting opinions as a “disappointing display of judicial immodesty.”
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The split rulings suggest that the Supreme Court will have the final word in the cases involving the rarely tested emoluments provisions intended to prevent foreign and state officials from exerting undue influence on U.S. leaders, including the president.
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Maryland and D.C. are represented by their attorneys general offices, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Gupta Wessler PLLC and Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC.