A federal appeals court on Wednesday dismissed Maryland’s lawsuit alleging corruption by President Donald Trump in the handling of his hotel property in Washington.
In a published 3-0 decision, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that Maryland has at most a “generalized grievance” that the Trump International Hotel is attracting business away from a nearby convention center in the state.
Thus, Maryland lacks standing to bring its claim that Trump violated the constitutional prohibition on the president accepting “emoluments,” or profits, derived from state or foreign governments or diplomats who visited or stated in Trump’s hotel, the 4th Circuit held in dismissing the case brought by Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh and Karl A. Racine, his Washington, D.C., counterpart.
“The District and Maryland’s interest in enforcing the Emoluments Clauses is so attenuated 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 between the parties,” Judge Paul V. Niemeyer wrote for the court.
Frosh said he and Racine, both Democrats, think the 4th Circuit “got it wrong” and added they will likely ask the full 4th Circuit to review the three-judge panel’s decision. If that appeal proves unavailing, Frosh strongly suggested they would seek review by the Supreme Court.
“This is an extremely important case, and we’re not going to roll over,” Frosh said. “They (members of the three judge panel) have essentially said that Donald Trump is above the law.”
Trump hailed the court’s decision in a tweet.
“Word just out that I won a big part of the Deep State and Democrat induced Witch Hunt,” Trump tweeted. “Unanimous decision in my favor from the United States Court of Appeals for the 4th 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!).
Niemeyer was joined by Judge A. Marvin Quattlebaum Jr. and Senior Judge Dennis W. Shedd.
The 4th Circuit’s decision overturned the ruling last year by U.S. District Judge Peter J. Messitte in Greenbelt that the president can be sued for alleged corruption under the Constitution’s emoluments clauses and the attorneys general are entitled to pre-trial discovery of documents and testimony related to their allegation
The clauses permit the president to collect a salary but bar him from receiving “any other emolument” from the United States or any state or to accept “any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince or foreign state” without congressional consent.
In dismissing the lawsuit, the 4th Circuit said Maryland cannot show that foreign and domestic government clients are patronizing the Trump hotel because the president yields a profit and not for a benign reason, such as the quality of the accommodations.
But Frosh said the need for such a showing is a reason to sustain — not dismiss — the lawsuit and to permit discovery of testimony and documents regarding why officials go to the hotel and if Trump is turning a profit.
“That would be a hell of coincidence” if dignitaries were staying at Trump’s hotel solely for the accommodations, Frosh said. “We are entitled to take discovery to find out.”
The 4th Circuit added that Maryland and D.C. must show a more concrete injury than having to compete with the president for hotel dollars.
“The harm alleged by Maryland and the district “amounts to little more than a general interest in the law being followed,” Niemeyer wrote. “And the Supreme Court has consistently held that a plaintiff raising only a generally available grievance about government – claiming only harm to his and every citizen’s interest in proper application of the Constitution and laws, and seeking relief that no more directly and tangibly benefits him than it does the public at large – does not state an Article III (constitutionally recognized) case or controversy.”
The 4th Circuit also noted the “distinct possibility” that government officials might in fact be avoiding Trump’s hotel – thus denying him of emoluments — because of the president’s association with it.
“And, even if governmental 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,” Niemeyer wrote.
“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,” Niemeyer added. “In short, the link between government officials’ patronage of the hotel and the hotel’s payment of profits or dividends to the president himself is simply too attenuated.”
The 4th Circuit rendered its decision in two cases, In re Donald J. Trump, No. 18-2486, and District of Columbia; State of Maryland v. Donald J. Trump, No. 18-2488.