President Donald Trump smiles during an event at the White House in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020.
Al Drago | Bloomberg | Getty Images
A federal appeals court on Friday ordered the dismissal of a lawsuit by congressional Democrats who claim President Donald Trump has violated the Constitution’s emoluments clause by allowing his businesses to receive money from foreign governments without prior approval of Congress.
Individual members of Congress lack legal standing to sue the president for alleged violations of law, said the three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in a unanimous ruling Friday.
The decision came two months after the panel appeared deeply skeptical of the claim that members of Congress, as opposed to Congress itself, could sue a president for violating the law.
“You are not Congress,” Judge Thomas Griffith told a lawyer for the 215 members during oral arguments in December.
“You are not here representing Congress,” Griffith said.
In its decision Friday, Griffith and the other two judges on the panel, Karen LeCraft Henderson and David Tatel, underscored that fact.
“Here … our conclusion is straightforward because the Members — 29 Senators and 186 Members of the House of Representatives — do not constitute a majority of either bodyand are, therefore, powerless to approve or deny the President’s acceptance of foreign emoluments,” the panel said in the ruling.
The case is just one of three lawsuits challenging Trump for alleged violations of the emoluments clause in connection with revenue at his hotels and other businesses.
Trump, upon becoming president, gave day-to-day control of his Trump Organization his two adult sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, who oversee the firm’s portfolio of hotels, resorts and golf clubs.
But Trump still has ownership over the company.
In the DC Circuit decision Friday, the judges cited a 1997 Supreme Court decision in a case known as Raines v. Byrd.
In that opinion, the high court ruled that individual members of Congress lacked legal standing under Article III of the Constitution to file a lawsuit suit challenging the legality of law which granted the president power to veto individual tax and spending measurers after signing them into law.
Friday’s decision also cited a Supreme Court opinion written last year by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in an appeal by Virginia’s state House of Representatives ruling involving racial gerrymandering ruling.
The Supreme Court in that opinion noted “that ‘individual members’ of the Congress ‘lack standing to assert the institutional interests of a legislature’ in the same way ‘a single House of a bicameral legislature lacks capacity to assert interests belonging to the legislature as a whole.’ “
The DC Circuit, in its ruling Friday, said the Democratic “members can, and likely will, continue to use their weighty voices to make their case to the American people, their colleagues in the Congress and the President himself, all of whom are free to engage that argument as they see fit.”
“But we will not — indeed we cannot — participate in this debate,” the ruling. “The Constitution permits the Judiciary to speak only in the context of an Article III case or controversy and this lawsuit presents neither.”
The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., currently is considering whether to resurrect a suit by the attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia, who are suing Trump over payments to his Washington hotel by foreign governments.
In September, a three-judge panel on the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City revived a lawsuit filed by the watchdog group CREW accusing Trump of violating the emoluments clause.
Trump in October requested a rehearing in the case by the entire panel of judges on the 2nd Circuit.