Supreme Court vacates, dismisses lawsuit by Dem lawmakers seeking records on Trump D.C. hotel

 June 27, 2023

The Supreme Court on Monday vacated a lower court's ruling and dismissed a case it previously agreed to hear involving Democratic lawmakers' prior request for government records with regard to the former Trump International Hotel in Washington D.C., the Washington Examiner reported.

That followed a voluntary move by the Democratic lawmakers to have the case, in which the current Biden administration was defending the position of the prior Trump administration, dismissed in a lower court.

Whether minority party members have standing to demand government records

In an orders list released on Monday, there was included an unsigned brief to announce changes in the case known as Carnahan v. Maloney.

"The judgment is vacated, and the case is remanded to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit with instructions to dismiss the case," the order stated. "Justice Jackson dissents from the vacatur of the order of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and would instead dismiss the writ of certiorari as improvidently granted."

At issue in Carnahan v. Maloney was the question of "Whether individual members of Congress have Article III standing to sue an executive agency to compel it to disclose information that the members have requested" under a particular statute.

That statute, 5 U.S.C. Sec. 2954, states, "An Executive agency, on request of the Committee on Government Operations of the House of Representatives, or of any seven members thereof, or on request of the Committee on Governmental Affairs of the Senate, or any five members thereof, shall submit any information requested of it relating to any matter within the jurisdiction of the committee."

The Examiner noted that the statute is known as the "Seven Member Rule," and seemingly allows for a minority party to make demands for records from executive branch agencies if at least seven members of the House Oversight Committee -- or five members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee -- are in agreement on making such records requests.

Case dismissed then resurrected on appeal

According to the Examiner, the case originated with a lawsuit in 2017 filed by 17 then-minority members of the House Oversight Committee who sought to investigate the 2013 decision by the General Services Administration to offer a lease to the Trump Organization to transform the Old Post Office building in D.C. into the Trump International Hotel.

The reason for the probe was accusations by Democrats that serious ethical and legal concerns had been raised with regard to unproven allegations that then-President Donald Trump was financially benefiting from and being unduly influenced by foreign interests paying for rooms at the hotel.

Following Trump's single term in office, his business sold the lease for the property in 2022, which has since been remodeled and rebranded as a Waldorf Astoria hotel.

A federal district court had initially dismissed that lawsuit in 2017 on account of a lack of standing by the Democratic members of Congress, but on appeal to the D.C. Circuit Court in 2020, a panel ruled 2-1 that the lawmakers did have standing to bring the lawsuit and resurrected that dismissed case.

Central question unresolved but now moot

According to SCOTUSblog, the Biden administration then appealed the matter to the Supreme Court and the case was accepted. However, before oral arguments could be heard, the Democratic lawmakers voluntarily asked the federal district court to dismiss the case once again, to which both the administration and the court agreed.

Though the central question in the case essentially remains unresolved, the matter is now effectively moot, hence the Supreme Court's decision to vacate the D.C. Circuit Court's ruling and remand the case back to that court with instructions to also dismiss it.

As for Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson's "dissent," she in effect concurred with the dismissal but argued that the dismissal should have been based on the administration's petition being "improvidently granted" rather than have the appeals panel's ruling be vacated.

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