*This piece originally appeared on the Take Care blog.
by Joshua Matz, Associate, Robbins, Russell, Englert, Orseck, Untereiner & Sauber LLP
There has just been a major development in the emolument clause litigation: CREW, which famously filed the first emoluments case on Trump’s first full day in office, has amended its complaint. In addition to bringing two new plaintiffs into the litigation—each with distinct and compelling theories of injury—CREW has produced a formidable and detailed list of Trump’s constitutional violations.
There is a lot to say about this development. For now, I will focus on a recent article with leaked information about how Trump’s lawyers might seek to defend him.
Last week, the New York Times reported the DOJ will argue that “the court has no authority under the separation of powers doctrine to intervene; that power lies with Congress.” This suggests that Trump’s lawyers will rely on the so-called “political question doctrine,” which, in very limited circumstances, deprives federal courts of the power to decide constitutional questions.
Such reliance would be grossly misplaced. Applying the political question doctrine here would require the court to rewrite and invert the plain text of the Foreign Emoluments Clause. It would be nothing short of absurd to deem the Foreign Emoluments Clause a “political question.” Indeed, as I will show in this post, that conclusion would require some heavy editing of the Clause:
[N]o Any Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under [the United States], shall, without the Consent of the Congress, may accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State, unless Congress is informed and thereafter denies consent.
(I will not address the Domestic Emoluments Clause, for reasons that will soon become apparent.)