Rule of Law

Democratic Lawmakers Can Advance Suit on Trump Hotel Profits

The lawsuit filed by 201 Democratic members of Congress challenging President Trump’s continued profits from foreign government guests at his hotels cleared a hurdle on Friday when a district judge rejected the Justice Department’s motion to dismiss the case.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge for the District of Columbia Emmet Sullivan does not decide the merits of the complaint that Trump is violating the Constitution by retaining ownership of 500 hotels, golf courses and licensing projects, many frequented by foreign dignitaries. Instead, it sides with the lawmakers as potentially injured parties to pursue their complaint further.

“The court finds that the plaintiffs have standing to sue the president for allegedly violating the Foreign Emoluments Clause,” Sullivan wrote, noting that the president so far “has not provided any information to Congress about any foreign emoluments he has received.”

The central question before the court, the judge continued, “is how to characterize the injury that occurs when the president fails to seek the consent of Congress, as required by the Clause.”

The suit, led by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., argued that each member of Congress “suffers a particularized and concrete injury when his or her vote is nullified by the president’s denial of the opportunity to vote on the record about whether to approve his” receipts of hotel or restaurant profits through the Trump Organization, from which businessman Trump did not divest himself when he assumed the presidency.

The president, through the Justice Department, sought dismissal on the grounds the plaintiffs’ lacked jurisdiction and failed “to state a claim upon which relief can be granted,” among other reasons.

“The president argues that this is an intra-branch dispute which does not belong in federal court because the plaintiffs’ remedy is to convince a majority of their colleagues in both houses to pass legislation addressing the president’s ability to accept prohibited foreign emoluments,” the judge noted.

The lawmakers, working with the nonprofit Constitutional Accountability Center, said Trump’s actions have “injured them in their roles as members of Congress,” and that “they cannot force the president to comply with the Constitution absent a judicial order.”

Sullivan opined that “although this injury is dispersed among all members of Congress, as will necessarily be the case when an institutional injury is alleged, this does not render the injury less concrete or particularized.” The Supreme Court, he added, has not foreclosed federal courts “from appropriately exercising jurisdiction over certain types of disputes between the political branches.”

Friday’s victory for Trump’s critics follows a similar ruling in July in a Maryland District Court allowing a suit against Trump on similar issues brought by the attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia. Trump’s continued ownership of his Washington luxury hotel has also brought suits by competing restaurateurs and the nonprofit transparency advocates American Oversight and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

The ruling “is a triumph for the rule of law, affirming that Congress can hold President Trump accountable for violations of the U.S. Constitution,” Blumenthal and Nadler said in a joint statement. “Members of Congress have a right and a responsibility to prevent the president from corrupting his office and President Trump is preventing us from doing our job,” they said. “We now prepare to make our case to Judge Sullivan on the merits: No president is above the law.”

In a statement to Government Executive, Justice Department spokeswoman Kelly Laco said, “We will continue to defend the president in court.”