Wednesday, July 25, 2018
Court Says Maryland, D.C. Plausibly Alleged Emoluments Claims Against President, Case Can Go Forward
Judge Peter J. Messitte (D. Md.) ruled today that Maryland and D.C. sufficiently alleged emoluments claims against President Trump. The court denied the President's motion to dismiss the case, and will allow the case to move forward.
Recall that Maryland and D.C. sued President Trump for violations of the Foreign and Domestic Emoluments Clauses for payments by foreign and federal and state governments in connection with the President and the Trump Organization's ownership of the Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue. The President moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim, arguing that indirect and direct payments to him aren't "emoluments." The court disagreed.
President Trump's motion required the court to define "emolument": Is it a broad term that could encompass the direct and indirect benefits that President Trump receives from his hotel (as the plaintiffs would have it), or is it much narrower, only prohibiting particular kinds of additional, outside compensation for the President? But before the court came to that question, it took a beat to broadly explain its options for constitutional interpretation. The court concluded that it should use text, original public meaning and executive branch practice as precedent to sort it out.
The court said that the text favored the broad interpretation of the term offered by the plaintiffs (and not the much narrower definition offered by the President):
As Plaintiffs point out, the Foreign Clause bans, without Congressional approval, "any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever . . . . Use of such expansive modifiers significantly undermines the President's argument that this Clause was meant to prohibit only payment for official services rendered in an employment-type relationship. . . .
The phrase "any other Emolument" in the Domestic Emoluments Clause suggests the same broad interpretation of the term.
As to original public meaning, the court said that "[t]he clear weight of the evidence shows that an 'emolument' was commonly understood by the founding generation to encompass any 'profit,' 'gain,' or 'advantage,'" not limited to particular kinds of salary supplements. "Though the Court agreed that mere counting of dictionaries may not be dispositive, is nonetheless remains highly remarkable that "every English dictionary definition of 'emolument' from 1604 to 1806 relies on one or more of the elements of the broad definition DOJ rejects in its brief."
As to purpose, the court said that it "does not see how the historical record reflects anything other than an intention that the Emoluments Clauses function as broad anti-corruption provisions," and not a more limited purpose that would simply prohibit the President from receiving only "specifically identified categories of compensation."
Finally, the court said that executive branch precedent and practice also--and "overwhelmingly"--pointed toward a broad definition of "emoluments."
With respect to the Foreign Emoluments Clause, Plaintiffs have alleged that foreign governments or their instrumentalities have patronized the Trump International Hotel, spending government funds to stay at the Hotel, eat at its restaurant, and sponsor events in the Hotel's event spaces. They have done so in some cases with the express intention to cater to the good graces of the President. . . .
[Plaintiffs plausibly plead] that the GSA's abrupt about-face position [first concluding that the President was, and later that the President was not, in violation of his GSA lease for failing to divest] was and is in direct contradiction of the plain terms of the Lease and that, by determining that the Hotel was and is in compliance with the Lease, the Federal Government bestowed upon the President an emolument in violation of the Domestic Emoluments Clause.
In addition to foreign governments patronizing the Hotel, Plaintiffs claim that at least one State--Maine--has patronized the Hotel, spending state funds for its Governor and his entourage to stay at the Hotel and to frequent its facilities during an official visit of those officials to Washington, including an encounter with the President where Presidential action of interest to the Governor good place.
[Plaintiffs plausibly plead] that, in connection with the Hotel, the President has received substantial tax concessions from the District of Columbia.
The court's ruling went to the President acting in his official capacity, not individual capacity. "The Court will address the President's Motion to Dismiss the individual capacity claims against him in a subsequent Opinion."
Before the court ruled on President Trump's motion, it took on Prof. Seth Barrett Tillman's argument that the Foreign Emoluments Clause doesn't extend to the President. The court said that the text, the original public meaning and purpose, and executive branch precedent and practice all point to the conclusion that the Clause does apply to the President.