Emoluments: Court of Appeals Recommends Dismissal of Suit by Members of Congress

By Aryana Thompson

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled this month that 215 members of Congress lacked the legal standing to sue President Trump for violations of the Foreign Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, reversing a district court decision from September 2018.

The 3-0 decision issued on February 7 was limited to the issue of whether the lawmakers had legal standing to file their original 2017 lawsuit. The ruling in Richard Blumenthal, et al., v. Donald J. Trump, in his official capacity as President of the United States of America held that the 215 members of Congress lacked that standing and remanded the case to the district court “with instructions to dismiss the complaint.”

The Members of Congress had argued that when the president does not obtain congressional consent to accept an emolument, they are “deprived of their right to vote on whether to consent to its acceptance.” They also alleged that they have “no adequate legislative remedy for the President’s denial of their voting rights.”  

The Appeals Court considered these points to determine whether the Appellees had standing: “To establish Article III standing, a plaintiff must… (1) suffer[] an injury in fact, (2) that is fairly traceable to the challenged conduct of the defendant, and (3) that is likely to be redressed by a favorable judicial decision.” Id. (citing Lujan v. Defs. of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560-61 (1992)). 

The Court heavily relied on precedent from Raines v. Byrd, 521 U.S. 811, 818 (1997), a case where six individual members of Congress challenged the constitutionality of the Line Item Veto Act and sought judicial remedies. The Court noted that the Supreme Court’s recent summary reading of Raines was that “individual members” of Congress “lack standing to assert the institutional interests of a legislature” just as “a single House of a bicameral legislature lacks capacity to assert interests belonging to the legislature as a whole” Va. House of Delegates v, Bethune-Hill, 139 S. Ct. 1945, 1953-54 (2019). The judges reached their conclusion that the 29 Senators and 186 Members of the House of Representatives do not constitute a majority of either legislative body, which means they do not have the voting power in Congress to “approve or deny the President’s acceptance of foreign emoluments.”