Court: Trump violates Constitution

A federal appeals court today ruled against President Donald Trump in a lawsuit alleging that he’s violated the Constitution’s emoluments clauses.

The decision from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals keeps the case alive, rejecting the president’s efforts to preserve immunity from the suit, which was filed by the attorneys general from Washington, D.C. and Maryland.

The court rejected an effort by Trump to end a lawsuit alleging his ownership of a hotel in Washington violates anti-corruption provisions of the U.S. Constitution that prohibit the president from accepting money from foreign interests or profiteering from his political office.

One emoluments clause requires congressional consent for anyone “holding any office of profit or trust under [the United States]” to accept a present or other benefit from a foreign leader or state.

The other, specific to the president, prevents the chief executive from receiving “any other Emolument” from the federal government or the states beyond his compensation.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled en banc to allow a lawsuit that alleges President Donald Trump is violating the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause to advance.

In the rare full-court ruling Thursday, the judges found Trump did not have the ability to ask the federal appeals court to dismiss the lawsuit, as he claimed immunity from the legal challenge while in office.

“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,” the court’s majority opinion states.

Since the founding fathers were especially focused on the historic dangers of secret bribes, it is fair to assume that they wanted such secrets to be uncovered.

How can these two clauses be enforced without oversight? The courts have made it difficult for private plaintiffs to sue, so surely public officials like members of Congress or state prosecutors must be empowered to prevent these clauses from becoming a dead letter.

Trump’s decision to keep his stakes in his global business, the Trump Organization, raised the question of whether he is continually violating either “emoluments clause.”

The foreign emoluments clause — in Article I, Section 9 — reads, “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.”

Merriam-Webster defines emoluments as “returns arising from office or employment usually in the form of compensation or perquisites.” Historians largely agree that the original intent of the constitutional provision was to discourage early American leaders from being influenced by gifts or titles bestowed by European governments or royalty.

Trump owns companies that do business with foreign diplomats, state-controlled companies and state-owned television channels.

Trump’s company leases a building that is owned by the U.S. government.

That raises another constitutional issue because Article II, Section 1 says the president receives a salary while in office but “shall not receive within that Period any other Emolument from the United States, or any of them.”

Two lawsuits cite trademarks granted to Trump’s company by China’s government; rent paid at Trump Tower in New York by the Industrial & Commercial Bank of China Ltd. and the Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority; and events booked at Trump’s Washington hotel by the embassy of Kuwait and by a lobbying firm working for Saudi Arabia.

Trump has also been accused of a range of conflicts, including encouraging foreign dignitaries and U.S. military officials to stay at his hotels.

There are numerous legal actions that raise the issues.

A lawsuit filed by the attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia accuses Trump of violating the Constitution by holding a financial interest in the Washington hotel. That suit was dismissed by a three-judge panel of a federal appeals court but will be reconsidered by the full court.

The decision by the Richmond, Virginia-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was a victory for the Democratic attorneys general in Maryland and the District of Columbia, who alleged Trump’s financial interest in the hotel violated a prohibition on the president accepting payments from foreign governments without congressional consent.

The case will now return to a judge in Maryland, who has consistently ruled against Trump on preliminary legal questions, for further proceedings.

Trump opened the Trump International Hotel, on Pennsylvania Avenue just blocks from the White House, shortly before he was elected in November 2016. Unlike past presidents, he has retained ownership of numerous business interests, including the hotel, while serving as president.

Since his election, the hotel has become a favored lodging and event space for some foreign and state officials visiting the U.S. capital.

Trump is also facing two other, but similar, lawsuits.

In one, another appeals court reinstated a lawsuit brought by a Washington-area restaurant association, luxury hotel event booker and the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, who say Trump’s businesses pose unfair competition. (The split decisions by courts in New York and Virginia increase the likelihood the Supreme Court will weigh in.)

In yet another lawsuit, 215 Democratic members of Congress are seeking “the opportunity to cast a binding vote” on the issue, since the Constitution requires the president to obtain “the consent of Congress” before accepting an emolument. Trump is appealing a pair of Washington federal court rulings denying his request to dismiss that lawsuit.

Republicans in the Senate have steadfastly rejected opportunities to hold Trump accountable for breaking the law or abusing his powers, and there’s greater chance the voters will remove him before courts take definitive action.

However, there is ample damage that cannot be repaired inflicted on the world by Trump, including the deadly pandemic sweeping the globe, an economic disaster that could surpass the Great Depression, and the continuing climate crisis, wealth disparities and nuclear proliferation.


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