U.S. District Court Judge Rules That Congressional Democrats Have Standing to Move Forward in Foreign Emoluments Case Against President Trump

On Friday, September 28, 2018, United States District Court Judge Emmet G. Sullivan ruled that the lawsuit brought by 200 Democratic members of the United States Congress against President Donald J. Trump, alleging violations of the Foreign Emoluments Clause, may move forward in the District of Columbia.

The Foreign Emoluments Clause prevents certain federal officials, including the President, from accepting any “emolument” from “any King, Prince or foreign State” without “the Consent of Congress.” The plaintiff congress members allege that President Trump is receiving emoluments in the form of hosting foreign embassy events and foreign officials at President Trump’s downtown D.C. hotel while simultaneously withholding details of said transactions and foregoing the necessary requirement of seeking Congress’s permission. President Trump filed a motion to dismiss, which Judge Sullivan struck down after finding that plaintiffs have standing to bring forth the lawsuit.

After a history lesson on the Foreign Emoluments Clause, Judge Sullivan explained his reasoning for finding that the plaintiffs had standing to sue. First, Judge Sullivan held that the plaintiffs suffered “injury-in-fact” because President Trump denied the members of Congress a voting opportunity to which the U.S. Constitution entitled said Congress members. Second, Judge Sullivan found the injury is “fairly traceable to the President’s conduct” because President Trump neither sought permission nor provided details regarding the transactions allegedly accepted. And, finally, the injury may be redressed “by a favorable judicial decision if the Court requires the President to obtain congressional consent before accepting prohibited foreign emoluments.”

President Trump is facing separate Foreign Emoluments Clause lawsuits filed by the attorney general of Washington, D.C. and the attorney general of Maryland.

Additional Reading

Congressional Democrats’ lawsuit alleging Trump’s private business is violating the Constitution can proceed, federal judge rules, The Washington Post (September 28, 2018)

Blumenthal et al v. Trump

Memorandum Opinion in Blumenthal et al v. Trump