Federal Appeals Court Rules for Trump in Emoluments Case

 nytimes.com  07/10/2019 17:43:05  2  Sharon LaFraniere
ImageThe Trump International Hotel in Washington.
The Trump International Hotel in Washington.CreditCreditAlex Wroblewski/Getty Images

WASHINGTON  In a legal victory for President Trump, a federal appeals court panel on Wednesday ordered the dismissal of a lawsuit claiming that he has violated the Constitution by collecting profits from government guests at his hotel in the nations capitol.

A three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., found that the state of Maryland and the District of Columbia had no legal standing to sue Mr. Trump.

The judges roundly rejected the premise of the case, which claimed that the Trump International Hotel, located blocks from the White House, is unfairly siphoning off business from hotels owned by the local jurisdictions. The lawsuit, which alleges violations of the Constitutions anti-corruption or emoluments clauses, was about to enter the evidence-gathering phase.

The District and Marylands interest in enforcing the Emoluments Clauses is so attenuated and abstract that their prosecution of this case readily provokes the question of whether this action against the President is an appropriate use of the courts, which were created to resolve real cases and controversies, the panel wrote in its decision.

Until Mr. Trump took office, no court had ever ruled on the meaning of the emoluments clauses or how they could be enforced, if at all. The Fourth Circuit panels decision is unlikely to be the last word. The plaintiffs could appeal to the full court, which is somewhat less conservative than the three-judge panel. All of the judges on the panel were appointed by Republican presidents.

A similar case, filed by congressional Democrats, is now before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, and legal experts predict the question could well wind up before the Supreme Court.

Nonetheless, the decision was a welcome one for a White House facing legal challenges on a host of issues ranging from its handling of the 2020 census to Mr. Trumps refusal to turn over his tax returns to Congress.

Mr. Trump promptly expressed his satisfaction, saying he has lost money, not enriched himself, since taking office. Word just out that I won a big part of the Deep State and Democrat induced Witch Hunt, he wrote on Twitter. Unanimous decision in my favor from The United States Court of Appeals For The Fourth Circuit on the ridiculous Emoluments Case.

The judicial panel said that United States District Court Judge Peter J. Messitte of Greenbelt, Md., who was appointed by President Bill Clinton, had abused his discretion by allowing the emoluments case to proceed. Among other flaws, the panel said, the plaintiffs had failed to identify how a court could rectify the presidents alleged constitutional violations.

Even if government officials were patronizing the hotel to curry the Presidents favor, there is no reason to conclude that they would cease doing so were the president enjoined from receiving income from the hotel, the 36-page opinion said. The hotel would still be publicly associated with the president, would still bear his name and would still financially benefit members of his family.

The judges described the emoluments clauses as broad prohibitions designed to guarantee a presidents independence and restrict the presidents ability to accept financial benefits from foreign or state officials seeking influence.

Neither clause expressly confers any rights on any person, nor does either clause specify any remedy for a violation, they wrote. Given the lack of precedent for such lawsuits, they said, Judge Messitte should have allowed the Justice Department to appeal his rulings in midstream rather than force the department to seek an emergency intervention by the appeals court.

That was especially true given that a federal judge in New York had recently thrown out a similar suit against Mr. Trump, they wrote.

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, they said.

In a statement, Karl A. Racine and Brian E. Frosh, the attorneys general for the District of Columbia and Maryland, said, We have not and will not abandon our efforts to hold President Trump accountable for violating the nations original anti-corruption laws.

The idea that the District of Columbia and Maryland are not harmed by the presidents violation of the Constitution is plain error, they said.

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