Classified Government documents scattered on the floor of Donald Trump’s office at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida

A federal appeals court has cleared the way for the Justice Department’s criminal investigation of Donald Trump’s theft of classified documents from the White House.

In a unanimous, unsigned 21-page ruling, the three judges of the US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta threw out a Trump lawsuit that has held up the inquiry since September.

Trump demanded a “special master” to review thousands of documents taken by the FBI from his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida in early August. Judge Aileen Cannon, who sits in the Southern District of Florida, granted the motion and barred the Justice Department investigation until the special master was finished.

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The Court of Appeals said Judge Cannon had no legitimate jurisdiction to order the review or bar the investigation. It ruled that there was no justification to treat Trump differently from any other subject of a search warrant.

“It is indeed extraordinary for a warrant to be executed at the home of a former president — but not in a way that affects our legal analysis or otherwise gives the judiciary license to interfere in an ongoing investigation,” the judges wrote. “To create a special exception here would defy our nation’s foundational principle that our law applies ‘to all, without regard to numbers, wealth or rank.’”

The ruling takes effect next Thursday unless there is an appeal by Trump’s lawyers.

Trump has already asked the US Supreme Court to overturn a ruling by the appeals court that excluded 103 classified documents from Judge Cannon’s review. The justices rejected his request without any noted dissents.

The Court of Appeals amplified on Thursday, “The law is clear. We cannot write a rule that allows any subject of a search warrant to block government investigations after the execution of the warrant. Nor can we write a rule that allows only former presidents to do so.”