On Monday, January 23, 2017, a lawsuit against President Trump is going to be filed in federal court. The lawsuit will allege that President Trump is violating the Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The clause, which has come into focus in the months leading to Trump’s inauguration, states the following.
“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.”
As it refers to this lawsuit against President Trump, the clause prohibits the president of the United States from accepting payments of any kind from any foreign power. The lawsuit requests that the federal courts in New York order President Trump to stop taking payments from foreign agencies, such as fees paid to Trump hotels and properties. This also includes loans for properties from banks that are controlled by foreign governments and leases with tenants who have distinct foreign government ties.
Lawyers for President Trump dispute these allegations, saying that the Emoluments Clause does not apply to fair market payments. In essence, payment for a hotel room is not a way for a foreign government to exercise influence over the president. The clause is only meant to prevent an official from accepting a special consideration or gift from a foreign government.
What the presidential legal team does not address is how this covers situations where foreign governments directly rent space from the Trump company. For example, China is a major lender to a building that Mr. Trump and his organization have an interest in. If China exercises lending rights to increase interest rates, this could be seen as pressure against the current administration. Likewise, if a foreign government were to rent spaces in Trump holdings, this could be seen as leverage.
In response to the upcoming lawsuit, Eric Trump, an executive vice-president of the Trump Organization and the president’s son, maintains that the company has gone above and beyond what is required by law. In an interview on Sunday, he said that lawsuits like these were just harassment for political gain. Eric also maintains that because they have agreed to donate any profits from foreign dignitaries to the United States Treasury, the Emoluments Clause does not affect these transactions.
At least one law professor agrees that the lawsuit is frivolous. Andy Grewal, from the University of Iowa, says that because the money is paid to a corporation and not to the president directly, it does not violate the Emoluments Clause. Professor Grewal maintains that there is enough of a separation between the president and the payments to isolate him from any benefits.
The lawsuit is being filed by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics (CREW). The legal team for CREW that is filing the lawsuit against President Trump comprises Erwin Chemerinsky, Norman L. Eisen, Deepak Gupta, Richard W. Painter, Zephyr Teachout, and Laurence H. Tribe.
Chemerinsky is the Dean of the School of Law at University of California, Irvine. Eisen was an ethics lawyer under the Obama administration, while Gupta is a practicing lawyer who has three cases pending before the United States Supreme Court. Painter served George W. Bush as ethics counsel, and Teachout is a law professor at Fordham University who specializes in studying the Emoluments Clause. Finally, Tribe is a Professor of Constitutional Law from Harvard who has been teaching since 1968.
The primary hurdle in this lawsuit is proving that CREW will be specifically affected by a violation of the Emoluments Clause. However, if the suit by CREW is tossed out, the ACLU is already preparing briefs to file their own set of federal lawsuits against President Trump and his administration.
What do you think? Is the president in violation of the Emoluments Clause by remaining attached to the Trump Corporation? Or is this something that the founding fathers could not have predicted and a new interpretation is needed. Let us know in the comments below.
[Featured Image by David J. Phillip/AP Images]