US Appeals Court Sides With Trump In Lawsuit Involving Hotel

FILE- This March 11, 2019 file photo, shows the north entrance of the Trump International in Washington D.C. A federal appeals court has ordered the dismissal of a lawsuit accusing President Donald Trump of illegally profiting off the presidency. In a significant legal victory for Trump, a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday, July 10, 2019, overturned a ruling by a federal judge in Maryland who ruled last year that the lawsuit could move forward. (AP Photo/Mark Tenally, File)

A federal appeals court threw out a lawsuit accusing President Donald Trump of illegally profiting off the presidency through his luxury Washington hotel, handing Trump a significant legal victory on Wednesday.

A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously overturned the ruling of a federal judge in Maryland who said the lawsuit could move forward.

The state of Maryland and the District of Columbia sued in 2017, claiming Trump has violated the emoluments clause of the Constitution by accepting profits through foreign and domestic officials who stay at his Washington hotel. The provision prohibits federal officials from accepting benefits from foreign or state governments without congressional approval.

The 4th Circuit found the two jurisdictions lack standing to pursue their claims against the president, and granted a petition for a rare writ of mandamus, directing U.S. District Court Judge Peter Messitte to dismiss the lawsuit.

Trump heralded the decision in a tweet, saying, “Word just out that I won a big part of the Deep State and Democrat induced Witch Hunt.” Trump tweeted that he doesn’t make money but loses “a fortune” by serving as president.

Trump’s personal attorney, Jay Sekulow, called the decision “a complete victory.”

“We are pleased that the Fourth Circuit unanimously decided to dismiss this extraordinarily flawed case,” Department of Justice spokeswoman Kelly Laco said in a statement.

During oral arguments before the panel in March, lawyers for Maryland and the District said Trump’s status as president is a driving factor for foreign and domestic government officials to stay at his hotel.

Just blocks from the White House, the iconic Old Post Office quickly became a hot spot for lobbyists and foreign officials after it reopened in October 2016 as the Trump International Hotel. A public relations firm working for Saudi Arabia spent nearly $270,000 on food and rooms. The Philippine and Kuwaiti embassies have also had parties there.

Maryland and the District claim they have suffered harm because more people would stay at hotels in their jurisdictions if they weren’t eager to curry favor with the president by staying at his hotel.

Trump’s legal team argued that Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh and District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine — both Democrats — lack authority to sue the president in his official capacity.

Trump’s lawyers also argued that the emoluments clause only bars compensation made in connection with services provided in his official capacity or in “an employment-type relationship” with a foreign or domestic government.

The 4th Circuit’s decision to hear the unusual mid-case appeal put the lawsuit on hold before deadlines to respond to subpoenas issued in December seeking tax returns, receipts and other records from more than 30 entities, including 13 Trump businesses and the federal agency that oversees the lease for Trump’s hotel.

Racine and Frosh said in a joint statement that they would not abandon their efforts.

“Although the court described a litany of ways in which this case is unique, it failed to acknowledge the most extraordinary circumstance of all: President Trump is brazenly profiting from the Office of the President in ways that no other President in history ever imagined and that the founders expressly sought — in the Constitution — to prohibit,” the attorneys general said.

Racine has previously said that if the panel ruled against Maryland and the District, the legal team would seriously consider asking for a rehearing before the full 4th Circuit. He also said it wouldn’t surprise him if the case ended up in the U.S. Supreme Court.

All three judges on the panel were nominated by Republican presidents: Paul Niemeyer, by George H.W. Bush; Dennis Shedd, by George W. Bush, and Judge A. Marvin Quattlebaum, by Trump.

Two other lawsuits accusing the president of violating the emoluments clause have been filed in other federal courts.

One of those cases, brought by nearly 200 congressional Democrats in the District of Columbia’s federal court, also deals with the idea that Trump is using the presidency for his personal profit, but that case is uniquely different in that the Congress is specifically mentioned in the emoluments clause itself. On Monday, the Justice Department petitioned for a writ of mandamus in the D.C. appeals court and asked for a stay on the 37 subpoenas issued in that case.



  1. The whole suit is invalid from the beginning, because the foreign emoluments clause does not apply to the president (or to any other elected official).

  2. Milhouse,

    That is 100% false. Please show me one source for that statement.
    You are saying the writers of the constitution allowed the president and other elected officials to be bribed ?

    In this case , the judges ruled that the petitioners did not have standing in this case. Nothing to do with a presidential exemption.

  3. Jackk, it is 100% true. The source is the constitution itself. The foreign emoluments clause explicitly applies only to those holding an office of profit or trust under the united states. The presidency is not such an office. Throughout the constitution, the term means one thing: an office to which the president appoints someone, with the senate’s consent. It is never used of any elected office.

    Yes, the framers and ratifiers of the constitution intended to allow the president and other elected officials to receive gifts from foreign governments without Congress’s permission. They saw absolutely no problem with it. The proof is that George Washington openly accepted such gifts, did not even attempt to get Congress’s permission, and nobody in Congress said a word against it. That proves none of them saw a problem with it.

  4. Milhouse,

    You don’t have even one source !?

    The clause has been explained for the past 240 years as referring to the possibility of bribes and corruption by the POTUS.

    Source One:
    At the Virginia Ratifying Convention in 1788, Edmund Randolph, a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, identified the Clause as a key “provision against the danger … of the president receiving emoluments from foreign powers.”

    Source two:
    The Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel has held:
    The language of the Emoluments Clause is both sweeping and unqualified. See 49 Comp. Gen. 819, 821 (1970) (the “drafters [of the Clause] intended the prohibition to have the broadest possible scope and applicability”). It prohibits those holding offices of profit or trust under the United States from accepting “any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever” from “any . . . foreign State” unless Congress consents. U.S. Const, art. I, § 9, cl. 8 (emphasis added). . . . The decision whether to permit exceptions that qualify the Clause’s absolute prohibition or that temper any harshness it may cause is textually committed to Congress, which may give consent to the acceptance of offices or emoluments otherwise barred by the Clause.