Emoluments

Members of Congress Emoluments Case

Major Issue:  Whether Members of Congress can secure judicial enforcement of the foreign emoluments clause in the Constitution.

Case Status:  Awaiting dismissal of case on remand.

Case Description:  On June 14, 2017, about 200 members of Congress led by Sen. Richard Blumenthal filed suit in D.C. federal district court to stop President Trump from accepting any payment or other benefit from a foreign government during his tenure in office, without obtaining advance approval by Congress.  This suit is one of three different lawsuits alleging violations by President Trump of the foreign and domestic emolument clauses in the Constitution; the other two were filed by state attorneys general and by private parties.  In the suit brought by Members of Congress, the district court issued three rulings on novel issues, all of which advanced the lawsuit.  An interlocutory appeal of those rulings was then filed.

Procedural Posture:  D.C. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan was assigned to the emoluments case brought by the Members of Congress, Case No. 17-cv-1154.  Over the course of two years, the district court issued three opinions finding that the Members of Congress had standing to bring the suit and stated a claim, defining the term “emolument,” and denying the President’s motion to dismiss or stay the case.  The district court also initially denied the President’s motion for an immediate appeal of those rulings, and authorized an abbreviated period of discovery.  After the D.C. Circuit court found that the district court had abused its discretion in denying an immediate appeal of the legal issues and remanded the case for further proceedings, the district court halted discovery and approved an interlocutory appeal.  On Feb. 7, 2020, a D.C. Circuit 3-judge panel found that the Members of Congress lacked standing to bring the case and remanded it to the district court to be dismissed.

On June 14, 2017, about 200 members of Congress led by Sen. Richard Blumenthal filed suit in D.C. federal district court to stop President Trump from accepting any payment or other benefit from a foreign government during his tenure in office, without obtaining advance approval by Congress.  On Sept. 28, 2018, the district court held that the Members of Congress had standing to bring the suit.  Blumenthal v. Trump, 335 F. Supp. 3d 45 (D.D.C. 2018).  On April 30, 2019, the district court issued an opinion which defined the term “emolument,” held that Members of Congress had stated a claim, and denied the President’s motion to dismiss.  Blumenthal v. Trump, 373 F. Supp. 3d 191 (D.D.C. 2019).  On June 25, 2019, the court denied a Trump motion for a stay and immediate interlocutory appeal of the court’s rulings.  The court also authorized Members of Congress to conduct an abbreviated period of discovery.  Blumenthal v. Trump, 382 F. Supp. 3d 77 (D.D.C. 2019).

After the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay, ruled that the court had abused its discretion by denying the interlocutory appeal, and remanded the case, the district court halted discovery – including staying 37 subpoenas – and authorized an immediate appeal. 

A D.C. Circuit 3-judge panel, with Judges Millett, Pillard and Wilkins, was assigned to Case No. 19-5196.  On July 19, 2019, the panel issued a 2-page opinion holding that the district court had abused its discretion by denying an interlocutory appeal before approving discovery in the case.  The panel denied a petition for mandamus, but stayed discovery and remanded the case to the district court for further proceedings. In re Donald J. Trump, No. 19-5196 (D.C. Cir. July 19, 2019).  Once the district court halted discovery and authorized an interlocutory appeal, a different 3-judge panel, with Judges Griffith, Henderson, and Tatel, was assigned to Case No. 19-5237.  That panel held oral argument on Dec. 9, 2019.  Multiple amicus briefs were filed.  On Feb. 7, 2020, the panel found that the Members of Congress lacked standing to bring the case and remanded it to the district court to be dismissed.  Blumenthal v. Trump, No. 19-5237, 2020 WL 593891 (D.C. Cir. Feb. 7, 2020).

No proceedings to date.

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