The Supreme Court has refused to hear two lawsuits on Monday that accused Trump of illegal business dealings in unlawfully receiving financial benefit from state or foreign officials while the president actively served in office.
In an order with no noted dissents, the panel of associate justices indicated that the judgements for the lawsuits were vacated and would be remanded back to the lower courts with instructions to close the cases as “moot” since Trump was no longer in office and thus no longer in violation of the constitutional clause regarding sitting presidents.
Under the US Constitution, the emoluments clause stipulates that no official holding office may accept “any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state,” without first obtaining clearance from congressional lawmakers. As such, officials are expected to divest from any business dealings while in office.
Although Trump turned over control of his business network to his kids as he prepared to assume the presidency, he also did not divest from his company. The decision quickly drew scrutiny as ethics experts highlighted that Trump would profit off the presidency.
The pair of cases were filed in 2017 and argued by officials from New York, Maryland and Washington DC, including the nonprofit Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).
The filings argued that Trump was in violation of the clause by receiving money when guests - often foreign dignitaries and their sizable entourages - stayed at one of his branded hotels in the nation’s capital, instead of in other locations, with similar complaints made in a second lawsuit that shed light on dealings involving Trump hotel and restaurant properties in New York state.
Both cases were subsequently left in limbo after they were advanced by two federal appeals courts, and then passed on to the Supreme Court, which was asked by Trump political appointees within the US Justice Department to toss out both legal challenges. Once US President Joe Biden won the 2020 election, it was largely believed both cases would be thrown out.
In a statement following the high court’s decision, District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine and Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh issued a joint statement hailing the development as a historic achievement.
“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,” reads the release. “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.”
“History will note that at every step of this case, President Trump and political appointees at the Department of Justice went to extreme lengths to prevent us from uncovering the true extent of his corruption. He attempted to short-circuit the rules of legal procedure to have our case dismissed and avoid discovery into his finances, arguing that the law did not apply to him,” the statement continues.
A release issued by CREW similarly underscores that the legal challenges “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.”
“Only Trump losing the presidency and leaving office ended these corrupt constitutional violations and stopped these groundbreaking lawsuits,” it added.
A third emoluments lawsuit was previously brought forth by over 200 Democratic congressional lawmakers but was ultimately dismissed in February 2020 by a federal appeals court. The Supreme Court declined to hear the case in October 2020.