Court Battles

Supreme Court dismisses emoluments lawsuits against Trump as moot

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The Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear a pair of emoluments lawsuits against former President Trump, ruling that the cases are moot now that he has left office.

The two lawsuits, filed by the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and the attorneys general for Washington, D.C., and Maryland, were part of a novel legal effort that alleged Trump violated the Constitution’s emoluments clauses by continuing to own his business empire while in office.

Before Trump came into office, the courts had never considered the question of what the foreign and domestic emoluments clauses prohibited, as few presidents had sought to test their boundaries. But Trump held office while also retaining private business interests that were unprecedented in modern times.

Three major emoluments lawsuits were filed against Trump during his term alleging that his network of businesses allowed him to accept unconstitutional payments from foreign governments whose diplomats patronized his hotels, opening the president up to potential foreign influence.

A third case, brought by more than a hundred Democratic members of Congress, was rejected by the Supreme Court last year.

“President Trump’s continued ownership interest in a global business empire, which renders him deeply enmeshed with a legion of foreign and domestic government actors, violates the Constitution and calls into question the rule of law and the integrity of the country’s political system,” reads the September 2017 lawsuit from D.C. and Maryland. “Whatever the sincerity of the persons involved, foreign and domestic officials are put in the position of considering whether offering benefits to businesses associated with the President is important to maintaining goodwill.”

The high court’s decision on Monday not to review the cases will ensure that the emoluments clauses continue to go dormant, leaving little clarity on whether Trump’s private business interests were constitutional.

CREW filed its own emoluments suit on Trump’s first day in office, alleging that his businesses allowed foreign governments to curry favor with him.

“This important litigation made the American people aware for four years of the pervasive corruption that came from a president maintaining a global business and taking benefits and payments from foreign and domestic governments,” Noah Bookbinder, CREW’s executive director, said in a statement Monday. “Only Trump losing the presidency and leaving office ended these corrupt constitutional violations stopped these groundbreaking lawsuits.”

D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine (D) and Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh (D), who last year had won an appeals court ruling allowing their lawsuit to proceed, said that their early success in the case, including a district court ruling that denied Trump’s effort to toss the lawsuit, will help deter future presidents from engaging in similar conduct.

“We are proud that because of our case, a court ruled on the meaning of ‘emoluments’ for the first time in American history, finding that the Constitution prohibits federal officials from accepting almost anything of value from foreign or domestic governments,” Racine and Frosh said in a statement. “This decision will serve as precedent that will help stop anyone else from using the presidency or other federal office for personal financial gain the way that President Trump has over the past four years.”

The Trump Organization did not immediately respond when asked for comment.

Updated at 10:55 a.m.

Tags Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington CREW Donald Trump Emoluments lawsuits Supreme Court Trump presidency

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