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Verdicts & Settlements

Appeals Court Backs Trump in Anti-Corruption Emoluments Lawsuit

— February 7, 2020

While the judges neglected to address whether Trump had received foreign emoluments, they issued a strong statement against partisan litigation.

A federal appeals court has dismissed an emoluments lawsuit against President Donald Trump.

The ruling, writes CNN, is considered a major triumph for Trump. Since the complaint was first filed by Congressional Democrats, the president has sought to keep his business interests protected and finances secret. Now, just days after winning a long-expected acquittal in the Senate’s impeachment trial, Trump has again escaped from a high-level inquiry unscathed.

However, the president’s woes aren’t yet over. As CNN reports, the emoluments case was one of three active challenges which accused Trump of abusing office for personal gain. The dismissed suit alleged that Trump violated the anti-corruption emoluments clause, while the other two claim that the commander-in-chief is unfairly profiting from his name-branded properties.

The latter two cases are not affected by the Friday dismissal, made by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

In their ruling, Judges Karen Henderson, David Tatel and Thomas Griffith determined that Democratic lawmakers lack sufficient standing to challenge Trump. Griffith, for instance, opined that the lawsuit was politically motivated, brought by an assortment of congresspeople rather than Congress itself.

A 2014 image of Donald Trump. Image from Flickr via Wikimedia Commons/user:Gage Skidmore. (CCA-BY-2.0).

“You are not Congress,” Judge Griffith told an attorney representing some 215 politicians. “You are not here representing Congress.”

Griffith and his colleagues further opined that Democrats’ “claim is based entirely on the loss of political power.” While the judges didn’t contest that Trump may have received foreign emoluments, they clearly found the question irrelevant to the suit’s self-sufficiency.

The decision, adds CNBC, also cited a Supreme Court opinion written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 2019. In it, Ginsburg said “that ‘individual members of the Congress ‘lack standing to assert the institutional interests of a legislature’ in the same way ‘a single House of a bicameral legislature lacks capacity to assert interests belonging to the legislature as a whole.’”

“Our conclusion is straightforward because the Members—29 Senators and 186 Members of the House of Representatives—do not constitute a majority of either body and are, therefore, powerless to approve or deny the President’s acceptance of foreign emoluments,” the panel said.

The court noted that their ruling does little to prevent Congress, or individual actors within, from attacking and testing the limit of Trump’s presidential powers. However, the judges were keen to establish their belief that the courts should play no role in this portion of the emoluments case.

“The Members can, and likely will, continue to use their weighty voices to make their case to the American people, their colleagues in the Congress and the President himself, all of whom are free to engage that argument as they see fit,” the ruling states. “But we will not—indeed we cannot—participate int his debate. The Constitution permits the Judiciary to speak only in the context of an Article III case or controversy and this lawsuit presents neither.”


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