References to the Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution have peppered reports in recent years, with claims of violating the clause leveled at various high-profile officials, including the President of the United States. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court shot down Democrats’ attempts to revive a lawsuit alleging that President Trump violated the clause by accepting money from foreign and domestic officials who stay at the Trump International Hotel, while controversial new reports alleged that the Biden family may have been involved in an “influence-peddling racket.”
So what is the Emoluments Clause?
An emolument is defined as “the returns arising from office or employment usually in the form of compensation or perquisites.” The United States Constitution references “emoluments” in three provisions, which are often described either individually or collectively as the “Emoluments Clause.” These are the “Foreign Emoluments Clause,” the “Domestic Emoluments Clause,” and the “Ineligibility Clause.”
The Foreign Emoluments Clause — Article I, Section 9, Clause 8
The purpose of the Foreign Emoluments Clause is to prevent federal officers from engaging in corruption and limit the outside influence of foreign actors. Without the consent of Congress, federal officers are not permitted to accept foreign emoluments. Below is the full text of the clause:
No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.
The Domestic Emoluments Clause — Article II, Section 1, Clause 7
The purpose of the Domestic Emoluments Clause is to preserve and protect the President’s independence by preventing Congress from adjusting their compensation while in office, and preventing a sitting President from receiving any other emoluments from federal or state governments other than their salary. Full text below:
The President shall, at stated Times, receive for his Services, a Compensation, which shall neither be increased nor diminished during the Period for which he shall have been elected, and he shall not receive within that Period any other Emolument from the United States, or any of them.
The Ineligibility Clause — Article I, Section 6, Clause 2
The purpose of the Ineligibility Clause is to enforce the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches. Federal officers are not permitted to also serve as Members of Congress, and Members of Congress are not permitted to hold an office if that office was established during their tenure, or that office’s emoluments were increased during their tenure. Here is how the clause reads:
No Senator or Representative shall, during the Time for which he was elected, be appointed to any civil Office under the Authority of the United States, which shall have been created, or the Emoluments whereof shall have been encreased during such time; and no Person holding any Office under the United States, shall be a Member of either House during his Continuance in Office.
In Federalist 22, Alexander Hamilton discussed the importance of protecting against corruption, writing:
“In republics, persons elevated from the mass of the community, by the suffrages of their fellow-citizens, to stations of great pre-eminence and power, may find compensations for betraying their trust, which, to any but minds animated and guided by superior virtue, may appear to exceed the proportion of interest they have in the common stock, and to overbalance the obligations of duty. Hence it is that history furnishes us with so many mortifying examples of the prevalency of foreign corruption in republican governments.”
Before 2016, there had been “no substantial litigation concerning the Emoluments Clauses.” During President Trump’s first term, however, several lawsuits have been filed which allege that Trump has violated the Foreign and Domestic Emoluments Clauses. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) v. Trump “alleges violations of the Domestic and Foreign Emoluments Clauses through President Trump’s receipt of payments from the federal government and various foreign government officials at different Trump Organization properties.” District of Columbia v. Trump alleged “violations of the Foreign and Domestic Emoluments Clauses similar to those in the CREW lawsuit.” Blumenthal, et al. v. Trump “allege violations of the Foreign Emoluments Clause through the President’s receipt of foreign-government payments at Trump properties, foreign licensing fees, and regulatory benefits, among other things.”
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