Congress, not the courts, should have the final say on whether President Donald Trump is in violation of the US Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, a federal judge ruled in dismissing two lawsuits filed against the president.
On Thursday, the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, better known as CREW, failed to convince US District Court Judge George Daniels of the Southern District of New York that Trump has violated the US Constitution the moment he was inaugurated. At issue was the Emoluments Clause, which prohibits US officeholders from accepting gifts or titles from foreign governments without Congress approval.
The non-profit outfit and their three co-plaintiffs – a restaurant association, an event booker for luxury hotels and a hotel and restaurant owner – all alleged that Trump was costing them money by renting Trump Tower office space to a Chinese bank. They further allege that Trump allowed foreign diplomats to party at Trump International Hotel located near the White House and receiving royalties for the BBC’s licensing of “The Apprentice,” a reality TV show Trump hosted from 2004 to 2015.
Judge Daniels, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton, rejected CREW’s claim that it was harmed because it would not have spent its time and money on this lawsuit if not for Trump’s business dealings. The judge was also not persuaded by the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, which represents 200 restaurants and 25,000 workers, or the two event and service professionals who claimed Trump’s influence cost them customers, according to the ruling obtained by Politico.
Around the same time the lawsuit was launched, then-CREW chairman David Brock, a supporter of Hillary Clinton, was spending a weekend with major Democratic donors seeking to defeat Trump through impeachment and litigation, according to a memo obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.
A separate Emoluments lawsuit, brought by New York attorney William Weinstein as a class action serving the public, was also dismissed Thursday by Judge Daniels, Politico reported. There are still other ongoing Emoluments cases out of the reach of Daniels. Congressional Democrats sued Trump in federal court in Washington, and the attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia have sued in a federal court in Maryland.
Daniels became the first federal judge in history to rule on an Emoluments Clause complaint against a president for his business relations, Bloomberg reported. But the judge found that ultimately the case was a matter for the Congress.
“As the only political branch with the power to consent to violations of the Foreign Emoluments Clause, Congress is the appropriate body to determine whether, and to what extent, Defendant’s conduct unlawfully infringes on that power,” Daniels ruled. “If Congress determines that an infringement has occurred, it is up to Congress to decide whether to challenge or acquiesce to Defendant’s conduct. As such, this case presents a non-justiciable political question.”
US Department of Justice lawyers representing Trump argued the clause was not meant to apply to commerce. A service provided for a price does not rise to the level of influence peddling or a quid-pro-quo, they argued.
Legal scholar Seth Barrett Tillman wrote a friend-of-the-court brief arguing that US presidents are not even covered under the Foreign Emoluments Clause. He cited the first Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, who in 1793, left out the president, vice president and others from a 90-page list of civil office holders and US employees. Tillman also noted that Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson accepted diplomatic gifts without any permission from Congress.
DOJ attorneys, however, accepted in principle that the president is covered under the clause, a footnote in Daniels’ opinion shows.