Lovitky v. Trump, No. 18-5105 (D.C. Cir. 2019)Annotate this Case
Under the Ethics in Government Act of 1978, candidates for certain offices, including the Presidency, must file financial disclosures with the Federal Election Commission, 5 U.S.C. 103(e). A presidential candidate’s financial disclosure must include the “identity and category of the total liabilities owed to any creditor.” Reviewing officials determined that then-candidate Trump’s disclosures were “in apparent compliance.” Lovitky alleged that the disclosure included both personal and business liabilities, in violation of the Act, which “requires disclosure of only those liabilities for which candidates are themselves liable . . . or for which the spouse or dependent child of the candidate are liable.” Candidate Trump, Lovitky argued, “obscured his liabilities by commingling them with the liabilities of business entities.” Lovitky sought an order requiring amendment of the report.
The D.C. Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the case for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. The only possible basis of jurisdiction, the Mandamus Act, 28 U.S.C. 1361, refers to actions “to compel an officer of the United States to perform his duty.” The Ethics Act obligation is not a “duty” under the Mandamus Act, which includes only those obligations that pertain to a defendant’s public office. Detaching the duty from the office could lead to serious incongruities. For example, where an officer is sued in his official capacity, FRCP 25(d) automatically substitutes as defendant the official’s successor in office, so that, under the Ethics Act, a public official could be compelled to perform the personal financial disclosure duties of his predecessor.