Most immediately, the order issued Thursday blocks more than a dozen subpoenas aimed at learning more about Trump’s closely held private business transactions and which foreign and state governments have paid the Trump Organization. The subpoenas from the attorneys general of Maryland and the District target federal agencies and business records related to hotel stays and restaurant expenses.
“We are disappointed that we will not be able to resume discovery immediately because of President Trump’s continued delay tactics,” said a joint statement from D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine and Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh. “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 [May] ruling and the uncontroversial principles of law on which it relies, and we believe that the Constitution will ultimately prevail.”
In May, a divided appeals court refused to dismiss the case. The attorneys general are relying on the Constitution’s emoluments provisions intended to prevent foreign and state officials from exerting undue influence on U.S. leaders, including the president.
Fourteen judges backed the president’s requested stay “pending further proceedings at the Supreme Court.” One judge, James A. Wynn Jr., voted to deny the motion, according to the court’s brief order.
“We’re pleased that the Fourth Circuit recognized that this unprecedented litigation against the President should not proceed until the Supreme Court has an opportunity to review,” a Justice Department spokeswoman said in an email.
The case centers on the president’s hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue in Northwest Washington. Foreign governments, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain, have booked rooms and events there since Trump entered the White House.
Trump’s Justice Department lawyers say the president is not violating the emoluments clauses, because the language bars only payments in exchange for official action or as part of an employment relationship.
In the 9-to-6 ruling in May, the majority said it would not intervene at this early stage in the litigation. The court found a genuine dispute over the definition of an “emolument,” writing that “we can hardly conclude that the President’s preferred definition of this obscure word is clearly and indisputably the correct one.”
The majority also said subpoenas targeting the president’s business would not interfere with Trump’s official White House duties.
“The President has not explained, nor do we see, how requests pertaining to spending at a private restaurant and hotel threaten any Executive Branch prerogative,” wrote Judge Diana Motz.
The dissenting judges portrayed their colleagues on the other side as “partisan warriors.”
“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,” wrote Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III.
In a separate emoluments case led by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit said individual members of Congress do not have legal grounds to enforce the foreign emoluments clause. The Democratic lawmakers in July asked the Supreme Court to review the decision.