Emoluments Clause

  • April 18, 2017
    Guest Post

    *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.)

  • February 2, 2017
    Guest Post

    *Disclosure: The author is the Legal Director for Free Speech For People.  On Jan. 20, 2017, Free Speech for People jointly launched with RootsAction the national impeachment campaign at ImpeachDonaldTrumpNow.org.

    by Ron Fein, Legal Director, Free Speech for People

    Recently, President Trump’s ongoing violation of the Foreign Emoluments Clause has received significant attention. There is no need to repeat here the case-in-chief that President Trump is in violation of the Foreign Emoluments Clause. That argument has been made in careful detail in a December 2016 Brookings Institution white paper by Norman Eisen, Richard Painter and Laurence Tribe, amplified by a January 2017 essay by Joshua Matz and Laurence Tribe posted on the ACS web site, as well as in the federal court litigation by the nonprofit organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

    Let us take as given that President Trump has violated, and continues to violate, the Foreign Emoluments Clause. (We can reserve for another time the Domestic Emoluments Clause, as well as any potential violations arising from the executive order on immigration and possible defiance of federal court orders.) The present question is: is this an impeachable offense? The answer is clearly yes.  

  • January 24, 2017
    Guest Post

    by Joshua Matz, former law clerk to Justice Anthony M. Kennedy of the United States Supreme Court, and Laurence H. Tribe, Carl M. Loeb University Professor at Harvard Law School

    Until recently, you probably did not know (or care) what an “emolument” is. Many people, including many lawyers, had never heard that archaic term before. Those were the good old days. Now, thanks to President Donald J. Trump, the word “emolument” is all the rage. Need proof?  Last week, it topped the charts on Merriam-Webster.com. 

    As far as words go, that is a big deal. 

    This newfound popular interest reflects an emerging consensus that Trump is violating the Constitution’s foreign emoluments clause. That clause bars any “Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under [the United States]” from accepting “any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State” (absent congressional consent). As Trump’s lawyers have acknowledged (and rightly so), the president holds an “Office of Profit or Trust” and is subject to this restriction.

    The nature of Trump’s violation is straightforward: Because of his ownership stake in the Trump Organization, Trump’s private financial interests are intertwined with a business empire subject to many possible burdens and benefits abroad. None of Trump’s “solutions” fixes this problem.  As a result, in his dealings with foreign powers, Trump may be guided not only by the interests of the United States, but also by those of the business that bears his name—unless he totally stops caring about his money (we are not holding our breath). It is the purpose of the foreign emoluments clause to eliminate precisely this kind of blurred loyalty.

  • January 23, 2017
    Guest Post

    by Erwin Chemerinsky, ACS Board Member and Dean and Raymond Pryke Professor of First Amendment Law, University of California, Irvine School of Law

    The legal and constitutional problems posed by Donald Trump’s election are not hypothetical and began the moment he was inaugurated as president. Most immediately, Trump is the owner of Trump International Hotel, D.C. on the site of the Old Post Office. His ownership violates both the terms of his lease and the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution. Unfortunately, to this point, he either does not understand or does not care about the serious conflicts of interest posed by his business interests.

    The issues with regard to the D.C. hotel are obviously just the beginning of such problems arising, but they also are typical of the serious legal troubles that Trump faces. In 2012, Trump succeeded in getting the bid to redevelop the Old Post Office and signed a 60-year lease with the General Service Administration. Trump beat out proposals from hotel chains including Hilton, Hyatt and Marriott.

    Unlike many of his holdings which are owned by corporations, Trump himself is the majority owner in this hotel. The Washington Post reports that according to the financial disclosure form he filed with the Federal Election Commission, Trump owns 76.725 percent of the D.C. hotel project. Three of his children, Don Jr., Ivanka and Eric, each have 7.425 percent of the project.

    Trump’s ownership is in clear violation of the lease which contains a provision that says no U.S. official “shall be admitted to any share or part of this Lease or to any benefit that may arise therefrom.”  There is a simple reason for this: it prevents a conflict of interest that would exist if government officials are in a lease agreement with the government. As president, Trump oversees the General Services Administration and Trump, as owner of the building, is leasing property from the GSA.

  • January 10, 2017

    by Mark S. Kende, James Madison Chair Professor of Constitutional Law and Director of the Drake University Constitutional Law Center

    President-elect Trump is supposed to take the Oath of office on Jan. 20, 2017 but such an act would likely be illegal. Indeed, Chief Justice Roberts of the Supreme Court would even probably be an inappropriate accessory. Article II Section One Clause 8 of the U.S Constitution requires the president to "swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and...to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." Yet President Trump would likely be violating the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution at that exact time. He would be personally prospering as president or at least lining his business's pockets, because of his continuing acceptance of financial benefits from foreign governments and businesses. Indeed, his being president would almost certainly increase his business success. 

    The Emoluments Clause asserts in Article I, Section 9, Clause 8 that, "No title of nobility shall be granted by the United States: and no person holding any office of profit or trust under them, shall, without the consent of the Congress, accept of any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever from any king, prince, or foreign state."

    Scholars such as Fordham Law Professor Zephyr Teachout and sources such as the Federalist Papers, have shown the Clause covers the president and was designed to prevent improper foreign influences. It was an essential anti-corruption provision enacted to prevent federal officials from looking to profit from office rather than to act in the nation's interest.