‘This one’s a lemon’ vs. ‘Is he above the law?’: Judges spar over Trump emoluments case – By Josh Gerstein (Politico) / Dec 12 2019
RICHMOND, Va. — Democratic and Republican-appointed judges clashed sharply Thursday over a lawsuit claiming that President Donald Trump is violating the Constitution by profiting from the spending of foreign and state government officials at his luxury Washington hotel.
A quartet of lawyers argued for nearly three hours over highly complex legal issues spurred by the suit the District of Columbia and Maryland governments filed over two years ago, accusing Trump of ignoring clauses in the Constitution prohibiting federal officials from supplementing their salaries with “emoluments” from foreign powers or individual states.
However, the judges of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals provided the real action Thursday through a series of pithy, blunt exchanges with one another over the implications of allowing the case to proceed. The case has pitted state and local government officials against the Justice Department, which has argued that Congress, not the courts, should be the one to establish parameters for the vague clause. Personal lawyers for Trump have also entered the fray.
During the unusual “en banc” session, which featured all 15 judges on the panel, Judge Harvie Wilkinson, a Reagan appointee, was by far the most vocal and emphatic, delivering a series of broadsides against the suit and warning of grave peril for the presidency if the litigation is allowed to continue.
“We’re treating this as if it’s some kind of run-of-the-mill case and it is not that. The judiciary is asserting injunctive power over the president of the United States,” Wilkinson declared. “What’s being asked here is just wholly unprecedented.”
Wilkinson contended that the meaning of the emoluments clauses is uncertain and that courts would be unwise to allow litigation to enforce them without Congress laying out some framework to consider such claims. He said the courts were being asked “to proceed alone to tie down the presidency in litigation.”
“That is an excellent summary of our argument, Judge Wilkinson,” Justice Department attorney Hashim Mooppan declared.
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