A lawsuit accusing President Donald Trump of illegally profiting off the presidency through his luxury Washington hotel was revived on Thursday by a divided federal appeals court.
The lawsuit brought by the state of Maryland and the District of Columbia (DC) alleges Mr Trump has violated the emoluments clause of the Constitution by accepting profits through foreign and domestic officials who stay at the Trump International Hotel.
A spokeswoman for the US Department of Justice (DOJ) said it would ask the US Supreme Court to hear the case.
Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh and District Attorney General Karl Racine — both Democrats — said they hoped Thursday’s ruling from the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond would jump-start efforts by the two jurisdictions to obtain records showing how much state and foreign governments have paid the Trump Organisation to stay at the hotel and hold events there.
More than three dozen subpoenas issued to various government agencies were put on hold while Mr Trump’s appeal was pending.
The lawsuit was filed almost three years ago. US District Judge Peter Messitte refused to dismiss it, but his ruling was overturned in July by a three-judge panel of the 4th Circuit.
The judges found Maryland and DC lacked standing to pursue their claims against the president.
But on Thursday, the panel’s ruling was overturned by the full court of 15 judges.
In a 9-6 ruling, the court found the three-judge panel overstepped its authority when it ordered Judge Messitte to dismiss the lawsuit.
“We recognise that the President is no ordinary petitioner, and we accord him great deference as the head of the Executive branch. But Congress and the Supreme Court have severely limited our ability to grant the extraordinary relief the President seeks,” Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote for the majority in rejecting Mr Trump’s request to dismiss the lawsuit.
All nine of the judges in the majority were nominated by Democratic presidents.
The six judges who disagreed — all nominated by Republican presidents, including three by Mr Trump — wrote a scathing dissenting opinion, saying the lawsuit should be thrown out.
“The majority is using a wholly novel and nakedly political cause of action to pave the path for a litigative assault upon this and future Presidents and for an ascendant judicial supervisory role over Presidential action,” Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III wrote.
This unprecedented suit ... against the President of the United States should have been dismissedThe US Department of Justice
DOJ spokeswoman Brianna Herlihy said the department was disappointed in the ruling.
“As the six dissenting judges noted, this unprecedented suit seeking to enforce the Emoluments Clauses against the President of the United States should have been dismissed, and the court of appeals erred by not even considering the merits of the President’s defences,” Ms Herlihy said in a statement.
The hotel, just blocks from the White House, quickly became a hot spot for lobbyists and foreign officials after it reopened in 2016 soon before Mr Trump was elected president.
Mr Trump’s lawyers had argued Mr Frosh and Mr Racine lacked the authority to sue the president in his official capacity.
They also insisted the emoluments clause only bars compensation made in connection with services provided in his official capacity or in “an employment-type relationship” with a foreign or domestic government.
Mr Frosh and Mr Racine argued hotels in their jurisdictions suffer “competitive injury” because officials hoping to curry favour with the president were more likely to stay at his hotel.
Meanwhile, Mr Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club in Florida will partially reopen to members this weekend as the state slowly reopens from the coronavirus lockdown.
An email sent on Thursday to members and seen by the Washington Post says the Palm Beach resort’s Beach Club restaurant, its pool and its whirlpool will reopen on Saturday after being closed for two months.
Its main building that includes hotel rooms, the main dining area and the president’s private residence will remain closed.
Members will have to practice social distancing, lounge chairs will be set six feet apart, and members will have to bring their own towels.
Florida governor Ron DeSantis, a close ally of the president, has been slowly allowing the state to reopen, with the hard-hit counties of South Florida trailing the rest of the state.