Constitutional Law

DC Circuit tosses suit claiming Trump is violating emoluments clause

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Donald Trump

President Donald J. Trump. Photo by Aaron-Schwartz/

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled Friday that congressional Democrats do not have standing to sue President Donald Trump for alleged violations of the emoluments clause.

The per curiam decision tossed a lawsuit brought by 215 members of Congress. The Democrats had contended Trump’s businesses violate the emoluments clause by accepting payments for hotel rooms and licensing fees for his show, The Apprentice, from foreign governments.

Under the emoluments clause, officeholders can’t “accept of any present, emolument, office or title, of any kind whatever” from a foreign government—unless they have the consent of Congress.

The Democrats’ claim is based on the loss of political power, and it is shared by members of Congress who didn’t join the lawsuit, the appeals court said. Supreme Court precedent holds that only an institution can sue in such a circumstance, according to the suit.

The 29 members of the Senate and 186 member of the House who sued “do not constitute a majority of either body and are, therefore, powerless to approve or deny the president’s acceptance of foreign emolument,” the appeals court said.

The court cited Raines v. Byrd, a 1997 U.S. Supreme Court decision holding that six members of Congress did not have standing to challenge the constitutionality of the Line Item Veto Act.

Under Raines and a later Supreme Court decision that applied it, “only an institution can assert an institutional injury provided the injury is not ‘wholly abstract and widely dispersed,’ ” the appeals court said.

The appeals court panel consisted of judges Karen LeCraft Henderson, David Tatel and Thomas Griffith. The case is Blumenthal v. Trump.

Two other emoluments cases are pending, according to coverage of the D.C. Circuit decision in the Washington Post and the National Law Journal.

In October, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at Richmond, Virginia, agreed to an en banc rehearing in an emoluments suit filed by the attorneys general of Maryland and Washington, D.C.

In September, the 2nd Circuit at New York resurrected a suit by plaintiffs who own and operate businesses in the hospitality industry.

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