Constitutional Law

What is an emolument? Judge gives term a broad definition in refusing to toss lawsuit against Trump

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The Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C./W. Scott McGill (

A federal judge in Maryland has denied another motion seeking to dismiss a lawsuit that claims President Donald Trump accepted unconstitutional emoluments through the Trump Organization’s ownership of the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.

U.S. District Judge Peter Messitte ruled Wednesday that the plaintiffs had stated a plausible claim that payments made by foreign and state governments patronizing the hotel constituted emoluments that violated the Constitution’s foreign and domestic emoluments clauses. The Washington Post, BuzzFeed News and Courthouse News Service covered the decision.

Trump’s lawyers had argued that emoluments should be defined narrowly as a payment made in connection with his capacity as president that is over and above his salary. Payments made for separate services such as the rental of hotel rooms would not be an emolument, the lawyers had argued.

Messitte adopted a broader definition by describing an emolument to mean any profit, gain or advantage of more than de minimis value, received directly or indirectly. Messitte said historical definitions supported a broader meaning and purpose for the emolument ban.

“The historical record reflects that the framers were acutely aware of and concerned about the potential for foreign or domestic influence of any sort over the president,” Messitte wrote.

The foreign 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.”

The domestic emoluments clause, also known as the presidential compensation clause, says the president shall receive compensation for his services, “which shall neither be increased nor diminished during the period for which he shall have been elected, and he shall not receive within that period any other emolument from the United States, or any of them.”

Messitte had previously ruled that the plaintiffs—Maryland and Washington, D.C.—have standing to pursue the claim involving the hotel in the nation’s capital.

A federal judge in Manhattan has tossed a different emoluments suit. The decision is on appeal, according to BuzzFeed.

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