A federal appeals court Wednesday ruled in favor of President Trump’s business interests, tossing a lawsuit brought by Maryland and the District of Columbia that argued he was violating the Constitution by running his hotel empire while serving as president.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Maryland and the District don’t have standing to complain about Mr. Trump’s actions.
The three-judge panel also questioned whether judges had a role to play in settling the dispute at all but ultimately didn’t reach that matter. Instead, it ruled on procedural grounds.
That does not mean the president is in the clear. Another judge is allowing a different lawsuit to move forward.
Mr. Trump touted the ruling as a big win.
“Unanimous decision in my favor from The United States Court of Appeals For The Fourth Circuit on the ridiculous Emoluments Case,” the president tweeted. “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!).”
Mr. Trump has kept ownership of his business empire, though he has turned over its day-to-day operations to his children.
His political opponents say he is enriching himself through money that U.S. government officials and foreign officials pay for rooms, bar tabs and other expenses at his properties, such as the Trump International Hotel Washington, D.C.
That, they say, violates the emoluments clauses of the Constitution, which restrict the president from making money off the federal government beyond his official salary and restrict him from accepting items of value from foreign governments.
Like so much else in Mr. Trump’s presidency, his opponents have filed multiple lawsuits, which are now playing out.
One ethics watchdog sued in federal court in New York on behalf of food service organizations. That case also was tossed for lack of standing, but the watchdog has appealed.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Democrat, has sued in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and has won several initial rulings, including that Mr. Trump’s income from his hotels counts as emoluments. The judge in that case also ruled that Mr. Blumenthal has standing as a member of Congress.
The third major lawsuit was brought by the attorneys general of the District and Maryland, who argued that their states’ business interests competed with Trump properties. That injury allowed them to sue, they argued.
The 4th Circuit said that was too tenuous.
“The District and Maryland’s 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,” Judge Paul V. Niemeyer wrote in the opinion for the unanimous three-judge panel.
Judge Niemeyer also cast doubt on the push to rope courts into policing the president.
“Up until the series of suits recently brought against this president under the Emoluments Clauses, no court has ever entertained a claim to enforce them,” he said, adding that the lawsuits “raise novel and difficult constitutional questions, for which there is no precedent.”
Mr. Trump called the ruling a victory over “the Deep State and Democrat induced Witch Hunt” — seemingly tying the emoluments matter into the investigation into Russian meddling and Trump campaign behavior during the 2016 campaign.
The Justice Department called the lawsuit “extraordinarily flawed” and cheered the ruling.
“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,” said spokeswoman Kelly Laco.
Mr. Trump donates his $400,000 annual salary to various government operations each quarter, but critics say interest in his hotel in Washington, golf resorts and other operations has benefited his business empire during his presidency.
The appeals court’s ruling overturned a lower court in Maryland, which allowed the D.C. and Maryland case to move forward.
That judge was a Democratic appointee. All three judges on the appeals court were Republican appointees.
⦁ Dave Boyer contributed to this report.