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While Everyone Was Watching SCOTUS, Trump Got a Win on the Emoluments Front


The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday ruled against President Donald Trump “absolute immunity” claims, but also bought the president significant time by remanding the high-profile tax return disputes to the lower courts. On the same day, a federal appeals court delivered Trump an under-the-radar victory in a lawsuit seeking to expose foreign governments’ spending at his private businesses.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit on Thursday granted Trump’s motion to extend a stay on discovery in a lawsuit alleging the president violated the U.S. Constitution’s Emoluments Clause by profiting from foreign governments and their officials through money spent at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C..

Sitting en banc, the court voted 14-1 to halt the litigation to allow the Supreme Court to consider a motion from the Justice Department seeking dismissal of the case.

The protracted litigation began with a 2017 lawsuit filed by the attorneys general of Maryland and D.C., accusing Trump of unconstitutionally allowing foreign governments to spend lavishly at his hotel in an effort to ingratiate themselves with the president.

A three-judge panel on the Fourth Circuit, each circuit judge appointed by Republican presidents, unanimously ruled in July 2019 that the lawsuit could not proceed because the attorneys general lacked standing – the right to initiate a legal action.

Nearly a year later, the full court in May voted 9-6 to resurrect the lawsuit. The decision, written by U.S. Circuit Judge Diana Gribbon Motz, an appointee of President Bill Clinton, did not rule on the merits of the emoluments case against the president’s hotel, but reasoned that Trump was not entitled to a writ of mandamus to immunize him from the lawsuit. The court concluded that several key issues, including the definition of what constitutes an “emolument,” are still debatable.

While the stay on fact-finding does not technically end the litigation, it seems likely that the Supreme Court petitions, which don’t have to be submitted until October, will delay the proceedings well past the November presidential election, insulating the president from any political damage to his re-election campaign.

The D.C. and Maryland attorneys general issued a joint statement Thursday to Politico saying they planned to continue pursuing the case.

“We are disappointed that we will not be able to resume discovery immediately because of President Trump’s continued delay tactics,” the statement read. “We want to get to the truth about President Trump’s constitutional violations and that is what the President is attempting to prevent. We are prepared to defend the Fourth Circuit’s ruling and the uncontroversial principles of law it on which it relies, and we believe that the Constitution will ultimately prevail.”

Read the brief order below:

Fourth Circuit Emoluments by Law&Crime on Scribd

[image via Joe Raedle_Getty Images]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.