A federal judge ruled on Tuesday that Democrats could move forward with a lawsuit against US President Donald Trump alleging that the Trump Organization is in breach of the Constitution’s ban on “emoluments.”
The lawsuit centers on the issue of whether the profits that the president’s business interests earn from foreign governments are “emoluments”—meaning gifts and payments from foreign governments—covered by the clause.
Judge Emmet Sullivan denied the president’s motion to dismiss and rejected the president’s narrow definition of emoluments. In his opinion, the judge stated, “[t]he President’s definition, disregards the ordinary meaning of the term as set forth in the vast majority of Founding-era dictionaries; is inconsistent with the text, structure, historical interpretation, adoption, and purpose of the Clause; and is contrary to Executive Branch practice over the course of many years.”
Sullivan agreed with the Democrats’ broad interpretation that ensures that the clause fulfills the purpose of excluding “even the possibility of corruption and foreign influence.”
Trump contended that the restriction applies only to payments or gifts received for governmental action taken by the president in his official capacity and is not meant to be understood as a blanket prohibition on private business transactions with foreign governments.
Until Trump took office, the meaning of the Constitution’s emoluments clause has never been litigated.