Federal Appeals Court Says Trump Emoluments Lawsuit Can Move Forward

Photo: Spencer Platt (Getty Images)

A federal appeals court on Friday overruled a trial judge and said that a lawsuit claiming President Donald Trump violated the Constitution’s emoluments clauses can move forward to determine whether Trump is illegally profiting from his position at the White House.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled 2-1 that in 2017 the lower court had wrongly dismissed a lawsuit brought by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington on behalf of restaurateurs and a hotel operator in New York.

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The Second Circuit Court of Appeals said “the district court did not apply the law correctly in finding that it lacked jurisdiction to decide the case,” CNN reported.

The lawsuit was the first of three major cases to address Trump’s alleged profiteering from his hotel, golf, and restaurant businesses around the world.

The issue of emoluments violations has been back in the news recently with the revelation that U.S. military crews have been staying at Trump’s golf resort in Turnberry, Scotland, and landing at Prestwick Airport, some 20 miles away. Politico reported on Thursday that U.S. Air Force crews have stayed at the Turnberry resort at least 40 times since 2015. Congress is investigating the trips.

Also, earlier this month, Vice President Mike Pence stayed at Trump’s Doonbeg golf resort in Ireland, which is located 100 miles away from meetings he held in Dublin, on the other side of the island.

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In Friday’s court ruling, appellate judges also mentioned a different emoluments case brought by the state of Maryland and the District of Columbia. Last July, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, VA, ordered the dismissal of that lawsuit, saying Maryland and the District of Columbia lacked legal standing to sue Trump, The New York Times reported at the time.

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The Second Circuit panel of judges, however, said that courts could take steps to ensure that the president doesn’t gain an unfair advantage by encouraging foreign governments to stay at his hotels and patronize his other businesses, Mother Jones reported.

Additionally, a third emoluments case previously was brought by congressional Democrats. In June, U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan denied a request by the Justice Department to pause that case so that it could be appealed. But a month later, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that Judge Sullivan had insufficiently considered legal questions regarding the separation of powers between the president and Congress when ruling that the case could move forward.

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In response, Sullivan temporarily halted 37 subpoenas congressional Democrats had issued for Trump’s financial records.

In the New York case, the Second Circuit panel said Judge Daniels had wrongly dismissed the case.

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Per the Times: “By [Daniels’] standard, the judges said, no plaintiff would ever have the legal standing to sue the president for accepting financial benefits or emoluments from foreign governments without congressional approval.”

If all of this is confusing, with appellate courts seemingly unable to agree on interpretations of the law, it’s because no other president has tested the emoluments clauses quite like Trump has. And there are no signs the president will voluntarily change course anytime soon. At this year’s G7 summit in August, Trump told reporters he wanted the next summit to be held at his own golf resort in Doral, FL.

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We can expect that one or more of these cases eventually will end up before the Supreme Court.

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