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The Supreme Court Opted Not to Hear Emoluments Cases Against Trump: Here's Why

The building where the Supreme Court of the United States decides matters of great importance.
By Laura Temme, Esq. on January 26, 2021 9:32 AM

The Supreme Court declined to hear arguments over whether former President Trump violated the emoluments clause of the Constitution this week - and ordered lower courts to dismiss the cases as moot.

The order, which came with no discussion or dissent, leaves open an important and novel question: Did Trump violate the Constitution by retaining an interest in his businesses, and allowing those businesses to take money from foreign governments while he was in office?

In Case You Missed It: Emoluments

A few years ago, even those in the legal profession had spent very little time thinking about the Emoluments Clause. But when President Donald Trump declined to use a blind trust for his business interests during his term, it started an intense debate about this obscure constitutional requirement. Now that we've all talked about emoluments so much, I've actually learned how to spell it.

So, one last time: The emoluments clause comes from Article I, Section 9, Section 8 of the United States Constitution. It states:

"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 any present, emolument, office, or title of any kind whatever, from any king, prince or foreign state."

All of this to say: Those who hold federal offices, including the president, can't receive payment or anything of value from a foreign government. (And they can't make someone the Lord of Westchester, Mass., either.)

Why The Supreme Court Passed

Not just one, but two cases involving the emoluments clause and President Trump made it to the Supreme Court. However, the justices dismissed the cases as moot. Because Trump is no longer in office, there is no remaining case or controversy as required by Article III.

But according to D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine, running out of time before reaching the Supreme Court doesn't mean it was all for naught, as he told CNN:

"Our lawsuit demonstrated for the first time that the Emoluments Clauses, centuries-old anti-corruption protections embedded in the Constitution, can be enforced."

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