Constitutional Law

Chemerinsky, other scholars file suit claiming emoluments clause violations by Trump

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Updated: Several prominent legal scholars have filed a lawsuit (PDF) that claims payments by foreign powers to President Donald Trump’s companies violate the Constitution’s emoluments clause.

The suit was filed Monday in the Southern District of New York on behalf of the liberal group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, known as CREW, report the New York Times and the Washington Post.

Among the lawyers who filed the suit are University of California at Irvine law dean Erwin Chemerinsky, Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe, former Obama administration ethics lawyer Norman Eisen and Supreme Court litigator Deepak Gupta. Chemerinsky writes a monthly online column for the ABA Journal.

The emoluments clause states that, absent congressional consent, no one holding any office of profit or trust shall “accept of any present, emolument, office or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince or foreign state.”

Lawyers for President Trump have said the clause applies to special gifts, not market value payments such as standard pricing for a hotel room. And Trump’s son, Eric Trump, claims that the Trump Organization is going beyond legal requirements by donating to the U.S. Treasury any profits arising from payments by foreign governments at Trump hotels.

“This is purely harassment for political gain, and, frankly, I find it very, very sad,” Eric Trump told the New York Times.

One aim of the lawsuit, Eisen told the Times, is to obtain a copy of Trump’s tax returns, which could shed light on money and loans Trump has received from foreign governments.

Some legal experts believe the suit could be tossed on standing grounds. CREW maintains it has suffered concrete harm because it has been forced to divert resources from other important matters to the emoluments clause issue.

The American Civil Liberties Union hopes to avoid standing problems by filings its own lawsuit on behalf of a hotel that competes with a Trump property. It is looking for plaintiffs.

Updated at 3:11 p.m. to note that Dean Erwin Chemerinsky writes an online column for the ABA Journal. Last updated Jan. 26 to clarify that the suit has been filed.

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