On Monday, June 12, the Attorneys General of Maryland and the District of Columbia announced they are filing a lawsuit accusing President Trump of violating the Emoluments Clause of the United States Constitution.
When the Constitution was drafted, the founders wanted to make sure that the President would be free from corrupt influence. They tried to accomplish this by adding a number of provisions to the Constitution, now referred to generally as the Emoluments Clause, which reads as follows:
"No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State."
The lawsuit filed by Washington DC Attorney General Karl A. Racine and Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh focuses specifically on President Trump's business empire, according to The Washington Post
. They argue that because the President's hotels or golf courses continue to allow foreign guests, he remains open to being influenced financially by a foreign power. The two Attorneys General claimed that President Trump's continued connection to his businesses constitutes a violation of the United States Constitution.
At a press conference announcing the suit, DC Attorney General Racine declared that "never in the history of this country have we had a president with these kinds of extensive business entanglements or a president who refused to adequately distance themselves from their holdings."
This latest lawsuit is just one of many targeting President Trump and his financial holdings. Last week, the Justice Department responded to a similar lawsuit
, submitting to the court that the Constitution's Emoluments Clause does not apply to "fair-market commercial transactions, such as hotel bills, golf club fees, licensing payments and office rent."
“Neither the text nor the history of the clauses shows that they were intended to reach benefits arising from a president’s private business pursuits having nothing to do with his office or personal service to a foreign power," the Justice Department wrote in its court filing. "Were plaintiffs’ interpretation correct, presidents from the very beginning of the Republic, including George Washington, would have received prohibited ‘emoluments.'"
In last week's filing, the Justice Department includes a long list of how past Presidents have received fair compensation from foreign countries for goods and services while in office. When Pres. George Washington took office as the country's first President, he did not shut down operations at his plantation. Mount Vernon flour and cornmeal was exported to countries like Great Britain, Portugal, and Jamaica without any allegation of violating the Emoluments Clause. Pres. Thomas Jefferson's Monticello estate exported tobacco to Great Britain during his presidency, with some of the exports undoubtedly finding their way into the pipes of British royalty and members of the political class.
The Department of Justice's filing even mentions how Pres. Barack Obama received book royalties from purchases made by foreign public university libraries. If a sitting President runs a private business, whether it be tobacco farming or selling books, there is nothing unconstitutional about a foreign government purchasing those goods at fair market value.
In recent years, the DOJ has even signed off on gifts. When President Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 from the Norwegian Nobel Committee, the Justice Department at the time ruled that the receipt of this prize did not constitute a constitutional violation, even though it was sponsored by the Norwegian government.
If a subsidiarity of the Norwegian government can give a United States President a gold medallion, a $1.4 million prize (which was donated to charity), and the title of "Nobel Laureate" without violating the Constitution, then the argument is that those same government officials should be allowed to pay the public rate to stay overnight at a Trump hotel.
Whether or not judges agree with the Trump administration's argument, this latest lawsuit from the Maryland and DC Attorneys General is unlikely to survive because the two states will have difficulty proving that they have "standing," or a justifiable reason to sue. The Supreme Court has ruled that in order for a party to have standing in a suit against the government, they must prove that the government's actions have caused them "injury in fact." Both Attorneys General will have a hard time proving to a judge that a foreign government official playing a round of golf at one of Trump's golf courses or staying in a Trump hotel would cause real injury to the residents of the District of Columbia and Maryland.
What do you think? Is the President violating the Constitution for allowing foreigners to sleep in his hotels? Do you support what these Attorneys General are doing? Let us know in the comments below!