The First Lawsuit Was Just Filed Against President Donald Trump

January 23rd 2017

Mike Rothschild

A group of legal scholars, ethicists, Constitutional litigators and concerned Americans citizens filed a lawsuit Monday against President Donald Trump alleging that his business holdings and conflicts of interest are violating the U.S. Constitution. 


The suit claimed the president is in violation of the Emoluments Clause.

It was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York and claimed the president will knowingly accept money from foreign governments through the Trump Organization which will be in violation of the Emoluments Clause.

While it's never been tested in court, the Emoluments Clause, which was included in the Constitution as a way to ensure foreign leaders couldn't curry favor with the United States government through the giving of expensive gifts, money, honorary titles, or awards. It has influenced foreign interactions with presidents on a number of cases.

Former presidents had to obtain authorization from Congress to keep expensive rugs, jewelry, medals, horses and art, but exceptions were made after World War II to allow high ranking officers to be awarded foreign titles.

Alleging that rents and luxury hotel bookings paid by foreign corporations constitute emoluments, the suit seeks no monetary damages.

It's an attempt to force Trump to disentangle himself from what it calls "countless conflicts of interest" with the potential to lead to "unprecedented influence by foreign governments," according to the suit. 

The Trump press office didn't respond to a request for comment from ATTN: but we will update the story when we hear back.

The plaintiffs hope that the suit will also force Trump to release his tax returns. He had previously claimed he would do it once no longer under audit, but on Sunday, advisor Kellyanne Conway claimed that "he's not going to release his tax returns," though she appeared to later go back on that statement. She tweeted Monday that the administration's stance hadn't changed and it'll be released once the audit has finished.

The names behind the suit are some of the most prominent figures in the movement to hold Trump to the ethical standards that bound other governments. Two are former White House chief ethics lawyers, Norm Eisen and Richard Painter; with prominent constitutional law professors Laurence Tribe and Erwin Chemerinsky also on board, as well as a number of other scholars and litigators.

While the Trump Organization has dozens of business holding around the world, the suit specifically cites the potential influence of two state-owned corporations renting space in Trump Tower, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China and the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority. It also goes into great detail about foreign governments attempting to show their enthusiasm for Trump's election by spending money at the new Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.

While the plaintiffs go to great lengths to establish their standing to sue the president, both as ethicists and as American citizens, other legal scholars believe they have a long road ahead of them. Suing the president is extremely difficult, with a 1982 U.S. Supreme Court decision ruling that the chief executive essentially has blanket immunity against civil actions.

It's likely that the group will be found to lack standing to sue the president, which is the same fate that's met almost every civil suit against presidents in the last three decades.

For their part, the Trump campaign has consistently denied that they're doing anything wrong. In an interview with the New York Times, Eric Trump called the suit "harassment for political gain" and Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks told Buzzfeed that the law firm Trump has engaged to handle his business separation "has already very clearly addressed" the issue.