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.
– Constitution of the United States, Article 1, Section 9, Clause 8
Since he was sworn in, Donald Trump has violated the Constitution’s Foreign Emoluments Clause, based on a plain reading of its text. That seems clear, but what is less clear is what the consequences will be for the Trump Presidency or, more critically, the future of the American Republic.
The Foreign Emoluments Clause is one of the more arcane provisions of the Constitution, with no meaningful court decisions and few legal opinions addressing it. But Donald Trump, with his various domestic and international business interests and many potential conflicts, is bringing the ancient word “emoluments” into common parlance. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has sued him in federal court in New York for violating the Clause.
While other matters, such as firing the FBI Director, dominate the headlines, the CREW lawsuit quietly abides, the pleadings not yet joined, and no motions or discovery requests filed. However, the lawsuit may tread uncharted Constitutional territory that can shape the Presidency for decades. Whether we regard the President as a public servant or monarch may be determined by its outcome.