Did you hear the one about the three reverends, two rabbis, and two judges who go into a bar and demand that its liquor license be revoked? It sounds like the opening to a joke, but it actually happened this past Wednesday when a group fitting that description filed a frivolous complaint with the D.C. liquor board, asking that the Trump International Hotel be denied the privilege of serving alcohol to its guests.
The grounds for the complaint is language in the D.C. code that specifies that the applicant for a license (in this case to serve alcohol) is “of good character” — which they claim President Trump is not. Here is the complete statute, with the money portion highlighted:
(a) Before issuing, transferring to a new owner, or renewing a license, the Board shall determine that the applicant meets all of the following criteria:
(1) The applicant is of good character and generally fit for the responsibilities of licensure. [Emphasis added]
(2) The applicant is at least 21 years of age.
(3) The applicant has not been convicted of any felony in the 10 years before filing the application.
(4) The applicant has not been convicted of any misdemeanor bearing on fitness for licensure in the 5 years before filing the application.
Joshua A. Levy, attorney for the group filing the petition, claims this is not merely a political stunt to injure Trump personally but arises out of a legitimate concern for the welfare of those who frequent the hotel and/or its bar. He even spells out the group’s concerns for Washingtonian magazine:
The public should feel safe certainly from violence, certainly from sexual assault, certainly from racism. It shouldn’t be a place where deceit takes place. These things should matter: If the owner’s character isn’t worthy, it could prove disastrous for those establishments and our community.
Let’s hope for Levy’s sake that he had his fingers crossed behind his back when he unloaded that drivel.
Legal scholars cite problems with the “good moral character” clause. In a 2008 article in the Journal of the National Association of Administrative Law Judiciary, retired administrative law judge Larry Craddock noted:
There is widespread criticism of the use of good moral character as a licensing standard. Critics complain the term places too much discretion in officials to exercise their individual whims and prejudices. These critics argue that the phrase fails to give helpful guidance to license applicants and license holders. They argue that the standard forces those to whom it is applied to speculate about the course of conduct to which they must conform their behavior to become eligible for, or to retain, a professional or occupational license.
Jonathan Turley, who teaches law at George Washington University, cites even bigger problems with the clause as it pertains to the petition against Trump, noting that “the liquor license is technically not in the name of Donald Trump” and the statute does not apply to the area of D.C. where his hotel is located.
At least liberals can dream.