Five days after the end of Donald Trump’s presidency, the supreme court today halted lawsuits accusing him of violating the US Constitution’s anti-corruption provisions by maintaining ownership of his business empire, including a hotel near the White House while in office.
The action means that after four years of litigation the top US judicial body will not rule on the meaning and scope of the Constitution’s so-called emoluments provisions, a largely untested area of constitutional law.
The provisions bar presidents from accepting gifts or payments from foreign and state governments without congressional approval.
The justices threw out lower court rulings that had allowed the lawsuits to proceed, Reuters reports, and ordered the two cases dismissed because they became moot with Trump leaving office.
One of the cases was filed by the District of Columbia and the state of Maryland, while the other by plaintiffs including the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). Trump had appealed the lower court rulings.
“Only Trump losing the presidency and leaving office ended these corrupt constitutional violations and stopped these groundbreaking lawsuits,” CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder said in a statement.
Maryland attorney general Brian Frosh and District of Columbia attorney general Karl Racine said in a joint statement that their case was significant because a lower court “ruled on the meaning of ‘emoluments’ for the first time in American history.”
Frosh and Racine said Trump and his Justice Department appointees who defended him “went to extreme lengths to prevent us from uncovering the true extent of his corruption.”
The Justice Department, now under Democratic president Joe Biden’s administration, declined to comment on the Supreme Court’s action.
In one of the cases, plaintiffs including CREW, a hotel owner and a restaurant trade group said the Republican former president’s failure to disentangle himself from his businesses had made him vulnerable to inducements by officials seeking to curry favor.
The plaintiffs said that they lost patronage, wages and commissions from clients who chose Trump’s businesses over theirs because of the ability to gain his favor. After a federal judge initially threw out the case, the New York-based 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals revived it in 2019.
A 2020 decision by the Richmond, Virginia-based 4th US circuit court of appeals allowed the similar lawsuit by the District of Columbia and Maryland to proceed. That suit focused on the Trump International Hotel in Washington, which became a favored lodging and event space for some foreign and state officials visiting Washington.
A third lawsuit filed by congressional Democrats against Trump ended last year after the Supreme Court refused to hear their appeal of a lower court ruling that the lawmakers lacked the necessary legal standing to pursue the case.
Walter Shaub, the former top US government ethics watchdog, who resigned early in the Trump administration, was sharply critical of the Scotus decision. today.
Shaub had previously strongly criticized the president over his failure to divest from his business holdings, saying he was “extremely troubled” that Trump simply turned over his investments to his two oldest sons.