Citing a lack of standing by plaintiffs, three judges from the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed a case Wednesday brought by the attorneys general from Maryland and Delaware alleging President Donald Trump violated Constitutional law. The AGs filed suit claiming Trump violated the Emoluments Clause that prevents elected officials from doing business with foreign governments.
The case focuses on Trump’s continued involvement with the Washington D.C. hotel that shares his name, and more broadly, on his global hotel empire. Plaintiffs claimed that Trump illegally profited from foreign dignitaries staying at his hotel while he is president.
The Appeals Court found that plaintiffs could not show how they were harmed and that they accordingly lacked standing, a legal requirement for a plaintiff to bring a civil suit in American courts.
Standing doctrine exists to ensure that cases brought before the courts are truly direct disputes between parties. A third party cannot sue a defendant, even if that defendant’s liability is obvious. Only a plaintiff directly harmed by a violation has standing to sue.
Because the lower court decision was overturned based on lack of standing, the Fourth Circuit made no ruling regarding President Trump’s potential violation of the Emoluments Clause.
“Word just got out that I won a big part of the Deep State and Democrat induced Witch Hunt,” Trump said on Twitter Wednesday. “Unanimous decision in my favor … I don’t make money, but lose a fortune for the honor of serving and doing a great job as your President.”
Jay Sekulow, counsel to the president, said the ruling was “a complete victory.”
“This latest effort at presidential harassment has been dismissed with prejudice,” Sekulow said.
The unanimous three-judge panel had harsh words for plaintiffs and the lower courts in reaching the decision to dismiss the case.
“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, which were created to resolve real cases and controversies between the parties,” Judge Paul Niemeyer wrote in the opinion.
“When plaintiffs before a court are unable to specify the relief they seek, one must wonder why they came to the court for relief in the first place,” the unanimous opinion states.
The court took issue with the lower court for failing to dismiss the claim, saying it “erred so clearly.”
The claim was brought under the assumption that foreign dignitaries would likely stay in Trump hotels in the hope of gaining favor with the president.
The court stated that foreign officials were just as likely to avoid his hotels and that no firm link could be established between who pays the business and the profits Trump gains.
The dismissal with prejudice means that plaintiffs will not be able to file the case again.
The Trump Organization has promised to donate any money earned by foreign officials staying in Trump Hotels. The non-profit donated almost $200,000 to the U.S. Treasury earlier this year.
“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,” they said in a joint statement.
Another case alleging violations of the Emoluments Clause being brought by Democratic legislators continues to make its way through the courts. A district court ruled in April that the suit could continue. U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan refused the Justice Department position that the Emoluments Clause is intended to apply only to bribes for official actions.
Congressional Democrats are currently using that ruling to force access to the Trump families financial records. Ultimately, Democrats believe Trump is hiding illegal financial handling, and maybe even personal payments by foreign governments.