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Law & the Courts

Appeals Court Permits Emoluments-Clause Lawsuit against Trump to Proceed

Secret Service agents walk into Trump Tower in Manhattan, August 4, 2017. (Mike Segar /Reuters)

A federal appeals court on Friday breathed new life into a lawsuit that claims the financial relationship between President Trump’s properties and foreign officials violates the Constitution, ruling that a lower court had erred in dismissing the suit.

By a two-to-one vote, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit rejected the lower court’s 2017 ruling, which had dismissed the case brought by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). CREW’s suit alleges that foreign governments’ patronage of Trump’s businesses violates the Constitution’s emoluments clause, which prohibits federal officials from receiving benefits from foreign governments without Congress’s consent.

“Plaintiffs have plausibly pleaded that the President’s ownership of hospitality businesses that compete with them will induce government patrons of the hospitality industry to favor Trump businesses over those of the Plaintiffs so as to secure favorable governmental action from the President and Executive branch,” Judge Pierre Leval wrote. “While the existence of a political motivation for a lawsuit does not supply standing, nor does it defeat standing, whether a lawsuit has political motivations is irrelevant to these determinative issues.”

CREW welcomed the court’s ruling and warned Trump to divest from his businesses if he wishes to avoid more legal trouble.

“If President Trump would like to avoid the case going further and curtail the serious harms caused by his unconstitutional conduct, now would be a good time to divest from his businesses and end his violations of the Emoluments Clauses of the Constitution,” CREW executive director Noah Bookbinder said.

Trump has dismissed the suit as “presidential harassment.”

“I got sued on a thing called emoluments. Emoluments. You ever hear of the word? Nobody ever heard of it before,” he said last month. “And what it is is presidential harassment, because [the presidency] is costing me a fortune, and I love it.”

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