The U.S. Supreme Court on June 26 dismissed an appeal over a long-running dispute between former President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats over the former Trump International Hotel in the nation’s capital.
The dispute focused on documents related to the lease of the government property in downtown Washington that housed the hotel. Democrats claimed that Trump received a sweetheart deal and demanded documentation from the government, which refused their request.
Trump left the presidency in January 2021, and The Trump Organization sold the lease to the property in May 2022 to CGI Merchant Group for an undisclosed sum. The hotel is now known as the Waldorf Astoria Washington D.C. and is part of Hilton Worldwide.
If the case had been heard and Democrats had prevailed, the minority party in Congress would have gained a great deal more power going forward to investigate a president’s administration of the opposite party, even if the minority party lacked the committee votes required to issue a subpoena.
The Supreme Court had just decided on May 15 to hear the case, but Democratic lawmakers advised the court on June 7 that they had voluntarily dismissed the lawsuit in the lower courts.
The case is Carnahan v. Maloney, court file 22-425.
Robin Carnahan is the administrator of the General Services Administration, an independent agency of the U.S. government that manages federal property and provides contracting options for government agencies. The lead respondent, former Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), chaired the U.S. House Oversight Committee until she left office on Jan. 3.
The case dates to 2017, when Trump had just become president and Republicans controlled both chambers of Congress. At that time, several Democrats on the House Oversight Committee demanded that the Trump administration produce records concerning how Trump had acquired the rights to develop the historic Old Post Office building, located a few blocks away from the White House, as a luxury hotel. The Trump administration refused. Trump critics have alleged that the deal smacked of corruption and that various organizations, including foreign governments, booked the hotel to curry favor with the administration.
The legal issue was whether individual members of Congress have standing under Article III of the U.S. Constitution to sue an executive agency to compel it to disclose information that the members have requested under 5 U.S.C. Section 2954. That law states that a request for information must be acted upon if just seven members of the House Oversight Committee or five members of its counterpart in the Senate demand it. Article III of the Constitution is the article that created the federal judiciary.
A federal district judge threw out the Democrats’ lawsuit in 2018, finding that they lacked standing to bring the case. The court found that the lawmakers weren’t injured by being denied the documents and that there was “no historical precedent for members of Congress to even attempt to enforce unmet … demands through the federal courts.”
But a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit overturned that ruling on a 2–1 vote in 2020, finding that the lawmakers had the right to sue. The panel sent the case back to the lower court for reconsideration, stating that “the separation of powers, it must be remembered, is not a one-way street that runs to the aggrandizement of the executive branch.”
The Supreme Court’s new decision came in an unsigned order. The order remands the case to the D.C. Circuit “with instructions to dismiss the case.” The court didn’t explain why it made its decision.
Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson dissented from the ruling.
Instead of vacating the D.C. Circuit’s decision, she said she “would instead dismiss the writ of certiorari as improvidently granted.”
The petition for certiorari, or review, was filed on Nov. 4, 2022, with the Supreme Court. The writ of certiorari was issued on May 15 when the court agreed to take the case.
How to settle similar disputes about the 1928 law has never been resolved in the courts. Lawmakers have sued twice, but both cases concluded without legally significant rulings, according to The Associated Press.
The Biden administration had urged the Supreme Court to take up the case, arguing that failing to remove the D.C. Circuit ruling from the books would allow lawmakers to interfere with the presidency.
In the petition filed with the Supreme Court in November 2022, U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar approvingly quoted the dissenting circuit court judge, Neomi Rao, a Trump appointee, who wrote that members of the minority party could use the law to harass presidents.
Rao said the panel decision meant that the “more fractious members” of Congress would be at liberty to “enlist the courts in their political conflicts and strategically threaten executive agencies with protracted litigation.”