Trump DC hotel dispute with House Democrats lands at Supreme Court
The Supreme Court is poised to decide if it will take up a case on whether Democratic lawmakers should be able to obtain documents related to former President Trump’s former D.C. hotel — a popular meeting place for GOP power-players during his administration that was a few blocks from the White House.
The Democratic lawmakers filed the lawsuit in 2017 after asking the General Services Administration (GSA) to produce various financial records related to Trump’s hotel in the Old Post Office Pavilion, which is owned by the federal government.
The lawmakers have accused the former president of hiding a significant amount of debt during the GSA’s initial bidding process for the hotel. They have also raised concerns about how Trump managed potential conflicts of interest while he served as president, including doing business with foreign governments who stayed at the hotel at the same time they were seeking to influence U.S. foreign policy. Trump has denied any wrongdoing.
Supreme Court justices discussed the request at a closed-door conference on Friday. If the court makes a decision about whether it will take up the case, it will be announced Monday, but it wouldn’t be heard until next term. Four of the nine justices must agree to take up the case. Three of the majority-conservative justices now sitting on the bench are Trump nominees.
At stake is whether the case could open presidential administration’s up to more scrutiny by Congress, even by a political party that is not in power.
Several lawmakers who kicked off the lawsuit have since left Congress or died and the Trump Organization eventually sold the lease following his presidency.
While the case has made its way through lower courts – the last of which decided the case could move forward and Democrats could continue to seek their GSA records – it is an appeal by the Biden administration’s Department of Justice that has brought it before the Supreme Court.
Biden’s DOJ has asserted the lower court’s ruling should be reviewed because it would otherwise open up the executive branch to a flood of lawsuits from a small number of lawmakers.
In essence, the case could create a precedent in which an administration could face much greater scrutiny from a political party in Congress whether or not that party controls the chamber. The lawsuit was filed by Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee when they served in the minority during the first year of the Trump administration.
“That decision conflicts with this Court’s precedents and contradicts historical practice stretching to the beginning of the Republic,” DOJ wrote in court filings. “The decision also resolves exceptionally important questions of constitutional law and threatens serious harm to all three branches of the federal government.”
DOJ cites, among other precedents, a 1997 Supreme Court case that found lawmakers generally “cannot claim harm suffered solely in their official capacities as legislators.”
The House Democrats’ attorneys responded by arguing the facts of those cases differ from the hotel document dispute, and Congress has authority to provide lawmakers an enforceable right to information.
“This case is a legal unicorn. There is no conflict among the circuits over standing under Section 2954. Indeed, only three times over the course of nearly a century have Members sued to enforce Section 2954, and neither of the earlier cases resulted in an appellate ruling on standing (or anything else),” they wrote in court filings.
The Biden administration has since drawn rare opposition from Democratic lawmakers, who want the justices to leave the ruling in place so their suit can proceed.
The Supreme Court receives thousands of petitions each year and rejects the vast majority of them. As one factor in their deliberations, the justices look for cases that present important questions of federal law.
Monday also marks the first day of the high court’s March argument session, which kicks off with an oral argument over whether the federal government has a duty to address the Navajo Nation Reservation’s water needs under two 19th-century treaties.
In the two-week session, the justices will also hear arguments on cases about patents, immigration, criminal defense and two trademark disputes.
One of those disputes is a case that is likely to bring a lighter atmosphere to the courtroom. The justices on Wednesday will consider whether a company violated trademarks owned by Jack Daniel’s by spoofing their whisky bottles in a poop-themed dog toy.
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