A federal judge in Maryland will allow a lawsuit against President Donald Trump to go forward, finding Washington, D.C., and Maryland may argue Trump’s continued investment in his downtown Washington hotel violates the Constitution.
U.S. District Judge Peter Messitte ruled Wednesday that the plaintiffs may bring the suit because they have plausibly shown rival businesses in the District and Maryland have been adversely affected by their inability to compete with Trump’s businesses following his election to the presidency.
“There are at least 15 ‘high-end’ restaurants and hotels in Maryland and 32 in the District of Columbia that can be said to either directly compete with the [Trump] Hotel’s restaurant, BLT Prime, or with the hotel itself, for event and meeting spaces,” Messitte wrote. “Plaintiffs allege that the bottom lines of all of these businesses are directly influenced by the president’s purported violations. In the court’s view, that is enough.”
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The judge noted the Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Ave. hired a director of diplomatic sales following the president’s inauguration, in expectation of increased bookings from foreign governments and their U.S.-based agents. Goods and services at the hotel remain set at premium rates give Trump’s repeated appearances at the property, while government officials like Maine Gov. Paul LePage have stayed on its grounds while in the capital on official business.
Having proved their injury, D.C. and Maryland may now argue that Trump’s continued investment in his businesses violates the Constitution’s emoluments clause, which forbids federal office-holders from profiteering in office without the approval of Congress. The provision was enacted to ensure government officials would not be corrupted by untoward gift-giving.
The decision may be appealed to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Lawyers representing Trump say ordinary commercial transactions do not rise to the level of an emolument, and others argue the clause does not operate against the president.
“While the Trump Organization is not a party to the lawsuit, the court’s decision today does significantly narrow the scope of the case,” lawyers for the president’s businesses said after the ruling. “The court has yet to rule on several additional arguments, which we believe should result in a complete dismissal.”
A judge in New York dismissed a similar suit against the president in December 2017.
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