The Supreme Court on Monday dropped a case concerning a lower court opinion that allowed for a handful of members of Congress to sue a government agency for records related to the Washington, DC, hotel once owned by former President Donald Trump.
The court’s move is likely because the lawmakers were no longer pursuing the case.
It means the justices will save for another day the issue of whether it is ever appropriate for a minority of members of congressional committee to be able to demand executive branch documents.
The case raised questions about when members of Congress – and not a full committee – had the legal right to sue an executive agency for documents under a specific federal law, Section 2954.
While most of the documents related to the Trump hotel deal had already been turned over, the dispute was expected to resolve whether challenges brought by lawmakers in the minority could go forward in future cases.
The Biden administration argued that if the lower court ruling was allowed to stand, it would harm the independence of the executive branch, and turn what has always been a negotiation process between the branches of government into immediate litigation.
Often referred to as the “seven-member rule,” it authorizes seven or more members (less than a majority) of House or Senate oversight committees to request and to receive information from government agencies.
The question before the Supreme Court was whether the members have the legal right or “standing” to sue for non-compliance under the law. The law is distinct from Congress’ institutional authority to request or subpoena documents and witnesses, which requires formal authorization from Congress or a committee.
The court on Monday wiped away a federal appeals court opinion that went in favor of the members.
“The underlying issue – whether it’s constitutional for a minority of members of a congressional committee to be able to demand executive branch documents – is an important debate for the future of congressional oversight, especially when the White House and Congress are controlled by the same party,” said Steve Vladeck, CNN Supreme Court analyst and professor at the University of Texas School of Law.
“That said, the specific issue in this case has become so thoroughly overtaken by events that it makes sense that the parties dropped the dispute – to save its resolution for a case in which it really matters,” he added.
The Trump hotel records dispute stems from members of the Democratic minority of the House Oversight Committee several years ago scrutinizing an agreement between the General Services Administration and a Trump company that they felt raised a potential conflict of interest.
Last year, the Trump Organization completed its sale of the hotel lease to CGI Merchant Group and its partner Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc., which now operates the luxury hotel as a Waldorf Astoria property.