A federal law commonly called the “Seven Member Rule” requires executive agencies to provide information in response to requests joined by at least seven members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. In 2017, 17 members of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform requested documents from the General Services Administration (GSA) relating to the agency’s 2013 lease agreement with the Trump Organization, an organization from which President Trump has refused to divest ownership since taking office, concerning the Trump Hotel at a government-owned building in Washington, DC. The lawmakers’ information requests were part of their oversight of GSA’s handling of potential conflicts of interest between Trump’s job as president and his role as a hotel owner. GSA, however, refused to provide documents in response to the request.
The lawmakers—Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-Wash.), Wm. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.), Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), Gerald Connolly (D-Va.), Robin Kelly (D-Ill.), Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.), Stacey Plaskett (D-N.Y.), Val Demings (D-Fla.), Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.), Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.), and Mark Desaulnier (D-Calif.)—then filed suit. They sought a court order compelling the agency to comply with its mandatory duties under that law. In August 2018, the district court dismissed the case, holding that individual Members of Congress lacked standing to sue for violations of the Seven Member Rule because the rights it created were institutional ones belonging to Congress as a whole, not to the subset of Members the statute empowers to obtain information from the Executive Branch.
Plaintiffs Cummings, Maloney, Norton, Clay, Lynch, Cooper, Connolly, Kelly, Lawrence, Plaskett, Krishnamoorthi, Raskin, Welch, and DeSaulnier appealed the ruling to the D.C. Circuit. The court heard argument in October 2019 and issued orders requesting supplemental briefing in January 2020 and August 2020. In December 2020, the DC Circuit reversed. Agreeing with our argument, the court held that the Members have standing to pursue the claim and remanded the case back to the district court.