Business News/ News / Supreme Court to Hear Case on Trump Hotel

The Supreme Court said Monday it would decide whether members of Congress can sue to obtain agency records about former President Donald Trump’s now-ended deal to operate a Trump International Hotel in a landmark Washington building owned by the federal government.

Separately, the justices said they would review a lower-court finding that a South Carolina congressional district is an illegal racial gerrymander and must be redrawn. Both cases will be argued in the court’s next term, which begins in October.

In 2013, Mr. Trump’s real-estate company signed a 60-year lease with the General Services Administration to convert the Old Post Office on Pennsylvania Avenue between the Capitol and the White House to a hotel. The Trump International Hotel opened three years later, just ahead of Mr. Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential election.

During the Trump administration, the hotel became a home away from home for lobbyists, overseas delegations and conservative activists doing business with the government. After Mr. Trump declined to divest the company upon taking office, Democratic officeholders began questioning whether the payments Mr. Trump’s company received from foreign interests booking the hotel ran afoul of the constitutional ban on federal officials accepting “any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State."

The late Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, then the House Oversight Committee’s ranking Democrat, repeatedly attempted to obtain GSA records regarding the lease. The Trump-era GSA said it would turn over some but not all materials, prompting Mr. Cummings and other committee Democrats in November 2017 to sue the agency, citing a federal statute requiring executive agencies to turn over information when requested by any seven members of the Oversight Committee.

In October, then Oversight Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D., N.Y.) said documents the committee obtained showed the Trump Organization charging the government excessive rates, such a $1,160 nightly rate for Secret Service agents staying at the Trump International to protect presidential son Eric Trump during his visit to promote a golf tournament at the Trump National Golf Club in Virginia. In response, Eric Trump said that “any services rendered to the United States Secret Service or other government agencies at Trump-owned properties were at their request and were either provided at cost, heavily discounted or for free."

The litigation has dragged on for years, outliving both the Trump administration and the Trump International itself, which became a Waldorf Astoria in May 2022. A federal district judge in Washington dismissed the case in 2018, finding that the lawmakers lacked legal standing to sue to enforce a federal statute. In 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reinstated the suit.

In general, members of Congress can’t take action to enforce federal laws, a function assigned to the executive branch. But in this case, the statute expressly granted rights to members of Congress who suffered injury from the alleged noncompliance, Judge Patricia Millett wrote for a 2-1 appeals panel.

Because they sought to vindicate their own rights, rather than merely enforce a general law they thought the executive had neglected, Ms. Maloney and the other lawmakers were entitled to sue, Judge Millett wrote.

Although political control of the branches has flipped repeatedly since 2017—and Ms. Maloney lost her seat in 2022—the litigation positions remain the same under the Biden administration.

The Democratic lawmakers—several of whom also have left office since the suit was filed—remain committed to their view of congressional oversight power. The GSA’s position undermines constitutional “checks and balances by restricting Congress’s power to confer informational rights on Members—a result that would gut a unique statute that empowers Members of the Oversight Committees to conduct oversight, even when one political party dominates both Congress and the Executive Branch," the lawmakers wrote in asking the court to turn down the case at this stage.

In another case accepted Monday, the court agreed to review a lower court finding that South Carolina’s Republican-majority Legislature removed Black voters from the state’s First Congressional District in an unconstitutional racial gerrymander.

The Legislature determined to “create a stronger Republican tilt" in the district following the 2020 census, after Democrat Joe Cunningham scored an upset victory to take the seat from the GOP in the 2018 midterm elections, according to a January decision from a special three-judge federal district court in Columbia, S.C. Republican Nancy Mace recaptured the district in the 2020 elections in a tight race against Mr. Cunningham.

“Analyses of partisan voting patterns within Congressional District No. 1 provided by both Plaintiffs and Defendants indicated that a district in the range of 17% African American produced a Republican tilt, a district in the range of 20% produced a ‘toss up district,’ and a plan in the 21-24% range produced a Democratic tilt," the opinion said. In redrawing the district to meet the 17% African American makeup, the Legislature transferred 30,000 Black voters into the neighboring Sixth District, held by South Carolina’s sole Democratic congressman, Rep. Jim Clyburn, who is Black.

That action violated Black voters’ “right to be free from an unlawful racial gerrymander under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment," the court found.

On appeal to the Supreme Court, South Carolina Republican leaders said the district court improperly assumed bad faith by the Legislature amid a host of legal errors. Current Supreme Court precedent considers racial gerrymanders unlawful but, under a 2019 decision, permits state legislatures to draw district lines that disproportionately advantage a political party.

“The challenge in South Carolina is that race and partisanship are so closely aligned," said Gibbs Knotts, a professor of political science at the College of Charleston. Black South Carolinians overwhelmingly support Democrats, while white voters heavily favor Republicans.

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