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Reviving Emoluments Case, Federal Court Says Trump's Legal Objections 'Gravely Offend Separation of Powers'

The president, said head of watchdog group, "should finally do the right thing and end the harms caused by his unconstitutional conduct."

An artist projected "Pay Trump bribes here" and "emoluments welcome" onto the facade of the Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C. in 2017.

An artist projected "Pay Trump bribes here" and "emoluments welcome" onto the facade of the Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C. in 2017. (Photo: igorvolsky/Twitter)

A federal court on Thursday ruled against President Donald Trump, rejecting the administration's effort to stop a lawsuit that accused him of violating the Emoluments Clauses of the Constitution.

"We should never have arrived at a point where states had to fight in federal court to compel the president to follow the Constitution. Nevertheless, President Trump has left no choice."
—Noah Bookbinder, CREW

The case was brought forth by the attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia and focused on Trump's Washington, D.C. hotel. From NPR:

Officials from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and other countries have collectively spent hundreds of thousands of dollars at the hotel, just a few blocks from the White House. The lawsuit's plaintiffs say those profits are funneled directly to Trump's business coffers.

"We recognize that the president is no ordinary petitioner, and we accord him great deference as the head of the Executive branch," Judge Diana Gribbon Motz of 4th Circuit Court of Appeals wrote for the majority. "But Congress and the Supreme Court have severely limited our ability to grant the extraordinary relief the president seeks."

The president's claim that requests for records constitute "intrusive discovery" is "puzzling," wrote Motz.

"The president has not explained, nor do we see, how requests pertaining to spending at a private restaurant and hotel threaten any Executive Branch prerogative," she wrote, adding that "the notion that the president is vested with unreviewable power to both execute and interpret the law is foreign to our system of government."

"Allowing the president to be the final arbiter of both the interpretation and enforcement of the law—as the dissents would—would gravely offend separation of powers," Motz wrote. 

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The Associated Press gave this background on the legal challenge:

U.S. District Judge Peter Messitte refused to dismiss the lawsuit, but his ruling was overturned in July by a three-judge panel of the Richmond-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The judges found that the two jurisdictions lack standing to pursue their claims against the president.

But on Thursday, the panel's ruling was overturned by the full court of 15 judges. In a 9-6 ruling, a divided court found that the three-judge panel overstepped its authority when it ordered Messitte to dismiss the lawsuit.

The case may now end up at the Supreme Court. As CNN reported:

The D.C. and Maryland case against the Trump International Hotel has been a long-running but serious challenge to the businessman president, and is likely to position the Supreme Court to interpret a key constitutional anti-corruption clause that has rarely if ever been taken to court.

The new ruling was welcomed by government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). 

"We thank and applaud the judges of the Fourth Circuit for their decision today," said CREW executive director Noah Bookbinder. "We should never have arrived at a point where states had to fight in federal court to compel the president to follow the Constitution. Nevertheless, President Trump has left no choice, bringing us to this historic day for the Constitution." 

"Americans deserve an ethical government under the rule of law," he continued. "President Trump should finally do the right thing and end the harms caused by his unconstitutional conduct. Now is the time to divest from his businesses and stop violating the Emoluments Clauses of the Constitution."

If that doesn't happen, Bookbinder says he'll work with the state authorities to "move this case forward to victory."

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