January 25, 2021

Really, SCOTUS?

I was surprised to learn today that the Supreme Court instructed the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals to dismiss two suits alleging that President Donald Trump violated the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution by accepting money from foreign governments at his Washington hotel. (See news stories here and here. The Summary Dispositions of the high court can be found here—see cases 20-330 and 20-331.) The court ruled that the lawsuits were moot, since Mr. Trump is no longer in office and no more infractions can occur. The court cited United States v. Munsingwear, Inc., a decision from 1950. 

To the casual observer, the dismissal of these suits  seems akin to dismissing a murder charge because, after all, the decedent is dead and can no longer be killed by the defendant. Was the president guilty or was he not? Surely, the charges brought against the ex-president, if brought by the House of Representatives during his term of office, could have resulted in impeachment and potential conviction and removal from office. Apparently, however, the Emoluments Clause lacks enforcement provisions in ordinary law making the prohibited action illegal and subject to particular penalties.

The action of the Supreme Court is outrageous, but the court could perhaps do nothing more than it did. Apparently, actual legislation backing up the Emoluments Clause is needed.

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