Judge throws out 'emoluments’ case against Trump

22 Dec 2017


A federal judge on Thursday dismissed a lawsuit alleging that President Trump's ownership of hotels and restaurants that do business with foreign governments while he is in office is in violation of the Constitution's emoluments clause.

Judge George Daniels of the Southern District of New York in Manhattan dismissed a lawsuit that maintained President Trump has benefited from foreign patrons at his hotels in violation of the Constitution.

The plaintiffs argued that because Trump properties rent out hotel rooms and meeting spaces to other governments, the president was violating a constitutional provision that bans the acceptance of foreign emoluments, or gifts from foreign powers.

But Judge Daniels ruled that the plaintiffs, led by the government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), lacked standing to bring such a case, saying it was up to Congress to prevent the president from accepting emoluments.

CREW is joined in the case by three other plaintiffs from the hospitality industry in Manhattan and Washington, D.C.

Deepak Gupta, who represented the plaintiffs, said there will be an appeal. "We are not going to walk away from this serious and ongoing constitutional violation," he said. "The Constitution is explicit on these issues."

The Justice Department is defending the president. DoJ spokeswoman Lauren Ehrsam said last night the department "appreciates the court's ruling and its conclusion."

The emoluments clauses drew little public notice until Trump was elected. He's the first president to own a global business empire.

Critics say foreign governments and others seeking to influence him could funnel money through his hotels, restaurants and golf clubs.

And, he said, the heart of the plaintiffs' case – the Constitution's Foreign Emoluments Clause – was something they couldn't even sue over.

The Foreign Emoluments Clause bars federal officials from taking gifts or rewards from foreign governments, unless Congress consents.

Trump maintains that the two emoluments clauses - foreign and domestic - don't apply here, and he has never asked permission of Congress.

"No one would have thought when the Constitution was written that paying your hotel bill was an emolument," Sheri Dillon, one of Trump's lawyers, told reporters last January. "Instead, it would have been thought of as a value for value exchange. Not a gift, not a title, and not an emolument."

In his ruling, Daniels said Congress, not any citizen, has the power to act on the Foreign Emoluments Clause.

"Congress is not a potted plant," he wrote.

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