Lost among the all-consuming Brett Kavanaugh confirmation debate, a federal judge on Friday allowed a lawsuit against President Trump filed by 200 congressional Democrats, alleging the Trump Organization’s ongoing business with foreign governments violates the Constitution’s emoluments clause, can proceed. The Justice Department sought to have the case dismissed, but Federal Judge Emmet Sullivan ruled that the Democratic legislators did, in fact, have legal standing to bring the case.
While other Trump Organization business dealings abroad may also violate the Constitutional prohibition on the president receiving financial benefits from foreign governments, the Democrats’ case centers on Trump’s hotels, in particular the Trump hotel in downtown Washington, D.C., which has played host to numerous foreign embassy events and visiting foreign officials. Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut told the New York Times there are other potential emolument conflicts and he believes “the president has violated the clause by collecting trademarks from China, rent paid by foreign governments at his real estate properties worldwide and government approvals for his business dealings. He also suggested that Mr. Trump’s businesses may have collected payments and benefits that are unknown to Congress.”
The Democrat’s suit argues that the Constitution bars the president from taking payment from foreign states “without the consent of Congress.” “Trump has not given Congress any details of these transactions, nor has he asked Congress’s permission for them,” the Washington Post reports. “Trump says he doesn’t need to—by his reckoning, these transactions don’t fit the Founding Fathers’ definition of ‘emoluments.’ They are business deals, he says, not payoffs.” The lack of transparency, Democrats argue, amounts to Trump effectively bypassing congress and the Constitutional requirement of congressional consent.
“The Clause requires the President to ask Congress before accepting a prohibited foreign emolument,” Sullivan wrote in his opinion. “[Trump] has neither asked for their consent nor provided them with any information about the prohibited foreign emoluments he has already allegedly accepted.” The ruling also acknowledged that lawmakers did not have reasonable recourse other than the courts. The ruling, however, is just the beginning of the suit as, the Post notes, “Sullivan still must rule on questions that include whether the Founding Fathers’ definition of ‘emolument’ was broad enough to include a foreign embassy paying the president to rent a hotel ballroom.”