A win for the rule of law

Federal judge rules lawsuit can proceed against President Trump

gavel2 1 Federal judge Peter J. Messitte ruled Friday that a joint lawsuit filed by Maryland and the District of Columbia against President Donald J. Trump can proceed, refusing the government’s request to drop the case.

Last June, D.C. and Maryland, announced they were suing Trump for violating the Emoluments Clause in the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits elected officials from receiving any present, title or emolument from a foreign head of state. Maryland and D.C.’s lawsuit against Trump alleges he has received emoluments through his various businesses, which Maryland and D.C. claim have become a hotspot for foreign dignitaries looking to curry favor with the president by patronizing his businesses.

“Today’s decision is a win for the rule of law, and soundly rejects the Trump administration’s argument that nobody can challenge the President’s illegal conduct,” said Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh.

At the center of the claim is the Trump International Hotel in D.C., located on Pennsylvania Avenue, which Maryland and D.C.’s attorneys general have claimed hurt their respective jurisdictions as people looking to gain good graces with the president have chosen to use the Trump International Hotel rather than other publicly-financed convention centers in D.C. or hotels in Maryland.

The main question at the center of Friday’s decision was whether Maryland and D.C. had standing in the case, which they had to show they were harmed in some way by Trump’s alleged violations of the emoluments clause.

“Having decided that Plaintiffs have standing to pursue this litigation, the Court wishes to hear oral argument on the remaining issues raised in the President’s Motion to Dismiss, namely the meaning of the term “emolument” and whether Plaintiffs have stated claims under the Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution,” Messitte said.

Before he was inaugurated as president, Trump said he fully separated himself from his business interests, giving control of the Trump Organization through a blind trust to his two sons Eric and Donald Trump Jr. But critics, including the attorneys general for both Maryland and D.C. have claimed that Trump has not fully divested from his business stakes and that foreign leaders have booked his hotels and resorts as a way to gain favor.

The Emoluments Clause has never been tested against a sitting president at the U.S. Supreme Court. Critics of the Maryland and D.C. lawsuit cite there are not previous Supreme Court rulings that can show a clear example of a previous president taking an emolument, meaning courts have no prior legal precedent to base a ruling on.

Frosh, along with D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine announced their lawsuit against the president last summer.

Since Trump’s inauguration, Frosh has been active in suing Trump after the General Assembly passed a bill giving him more autonomy to file lawsuits without gubernatorial approval to do so, something that has become important given the state has a Republican governor and a Democratic attorney general. Since early in 2017, Frosh has launched lawsuits against the Trump administration ranging from environmental enforcement problems, to Trump’s executive order banning people from six Muslim majority nations coming into the country.



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