Emoluments Clauses of the U.S. Constitution

There is a pending civil case in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland against Donald Trump for violations of the Foreign and Domestic Emoluments Clauses of the U.S. Constitution, Article I Section 9 ,cl. 8 and Article II Section 1, cl. 7. The case is PJM 17-1596, the Honorable Peter J. Messitte. On Wednesday, July 25, 2018, Judge Messitte denied Mr. Trump’s motion to dismiss.

Below are excerpts from Judge Peter L. Messitte’s decision:

The Foreign Emoluments Clause, U.S. Const. art. I, § 9, cl. 8, provides that “no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them [the United States], 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.” (pg. 1, footnote 3)

The Domestic Emoluments Clause, U.S. Const. art. II, § 1, cl. 7, provides: “The President shall, at stated Times, receive for his Services, a Compensation, which shall neither be increased nor diminished during the Period for which he shall have been elected, and he shall not receive within that Period any other Emolument from the United States, or any of them.” (pg. 1, footnote 3)

Of particular importance in the present suit is the President’s ownership, through the Trump Organization, of the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. (the Hotel).

The Hotel is a five-star, luxury hotel located on Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., in Washington, near the White House. While the President does not actively manage the Hotel, through the Trump Organization, he continues to own and purportedly controls the Hotel as well as the bar and restaurant, BLT Prime, and the event spaces located within the establishment. Directly or indirectly, the President actually or potentially shares in the revenues that the Hotel and its appurtenant restaurant, bar, and event spaces generate. (pg. 3)

The Court is satisfied, consistent with the text and the original public meaning of the term “emolument,” that the historical record reflects that the Framers were acutely aware of and concerned about the potential for foreign or domestic influence of any sort over the President. An “emolument” within the meaning of the Emoluments Clauses was intended to reach beyond simple payment for services rendered by a federal official in his official capacity, which in effect would merely restate a prohibition against bribery. The term was intended to embrace and ban anything more than de minimis profit, gain, or advantage offered to a public official in his private capacity as well, wholly apart from his official salary. (pg. 39)

Based on the foregoing, the Court finds that the Amended Complaint states plausible claims against the President under both the Foreign and Domestic Emoluments Clauses. (pg. 49)

In sum, Plaintiffs have plausibly alleged that the President has been receiving or is potentially able to receive “emoluments” from foreign, the federal, and state governments in violation of the Constitution: They have stated viable claims for relief under both the Foreign and Domestic Emoluments Clauses. Accordingly, the President’s Motion to Dismiss is DENIED insofar as it pertains to the claims which the Court has determined Plaintiffs have standing to pursue, viz., that the President may have violated the Foreign and Domestic Emoluments Clauses of the Constitution insofar as he is involved, directly or indirectly, with the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. (pg. 51)