WASHINGTON — A federal appeals court in Virginia ruled on Thursday that a lawsuit accusing President Trump of violating the Constitution by profiting from his Washington hotel can proceed. The decision will most likely lead the Justice Department to ask the Supreme Court to intervene to prevent the plaintiffs from gathering evidence against the president.
“We recognize that the President is no ordinary petitioner, and we accord him great deference as the head of the executive branch,” the decision by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals states. “But Congress and the Supreme Court have severely limited our ability to grant the extraordinary relief the President seeks.”
The 15-member appeals court in Richmond met in December to consider whether a three-judge appellate panel had wrongly dismissed the lawsuit over the Trump International Hotel brought by the District of Columbia and the State of Maryland. The local jurisdictions were about to begin evidence-gathering when the panel ruled for the president.
The local jurisdictions argue that Mr. Trump is illegally accepting benefits from government officials who patronize his hotel, in violation of the emoluments clauses of the Constitution. Their lawyers asked the full appellate court to let the lawsuit go forward.
But the Justice Department lawyers told the appellate judges that they should let the case die, arguing that without the express authorization of Congress, the president cannot be sued for violating the emoluments bans. Alternatively, they said the court should order the district court judge who was overseeing the case to allow an emergency appeal of his rulings.
Now that the appellate court has refused to do either, there is likely to be an administrative hold on the case to give the Justice Department time to appeal to the Supreme Court.
The appeals court was deeply divided over the case, with six judges dissenting from the majority’s opinion.