Florida Lawyer Sues Trump in Constitutional Law Tiff

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (CN) – A Miami attorney asked a South Florida court to determine  whether payments received by Donald Trump’s businesses violate Constitutional restrictions on a sitting president’s compensation.

Patrick Goggins filed an action for declaratory judgment in Broward County Court, raising the question of whether “monies paid to the Trump Organization during Donald Trump’s term in office” violate Article 2, Section 1 of the Constitution.

The Constitutional clause in question states: “The President shall, at stated Times, receive for his Services, a Compensation, which shall neither be increased nor diminished during the Period for which he shall have been elected, and he shall not receive within that Period any other Emolument from the United States, or any of them.”

The pleading does not specify which businesses and which supposed payments from the U.S. government Goggins is questioning. It describes the “Trump Organization” as “a series of interconnected business entities, in which President Donald Trump has a significant present ownership interest.”

“Defendant Donald Trump is the 45th President of the United States … and as such, his emoluments are subject to the strictures and constraints of the United States Constitution,” the lawsuit reads.

The March 31 case was published in the Broward County court database this week.

Watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a similar lawsuit against Trump in January, alleging that money received by Trump’s businesses  from foreign governments violated another section of the Constitution known as the Emoluments Clause. That  clause states that government officials are restricted from receiving  “any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince or foreign State,” without the consent of Congress.

The CREW lawsuit contains allegations that are more detailed than those in Goggins’ case, as the complaint pinpoints which payments to Trump businesses allegedly violate the Constitution. The lawsuit cites Trump Tower leases held by foreign-government-owned entities, room reservations  by foreign government agents at Trump’s Washington D.C. hotel, and  “payments from foreign-government-owned broadcasters related to rebroadcasts and foreign versions” of the TV show “The Apprentice.”

As noted in Constitution Daily, Iowa law professor Andy Grewal has suggested that the term “emoluments” is being interpreted too broadly by those accusing Trump of running afoul of Constitutional restrictions on presidential compensation.

Grewal’s article on the subject argues that the term “emoluments,” as used in the Emoluments Clause, refers to payments made for a U.S. government officer’s work in relation to his official duties. The term does not include fair-value payments to Trump-owned businesses for services provided, according to Grewal.

Trump announced in January that he was stepping down from his management positions within a laundry list of companies. Prior to his inauguration, his tax lawyer Sheri Dillon said at a press conference that Trump relinquished leadership and management of the Trump Organization to his sons Don Jr. and Eric and a longtime Trump executive, Allen Weisselberg.

Dillon claimed Trump would donate to the U.S. Treasury his profits from foreign government payments to his hotels. She rebutted the idea that the Constitutional definition of emoluments would include a “value-for-value exchange.”

“No one would have thought when the Constitution was written that paying your hotel bill was an emolument,” Dillon said.

Critics meanwhile challenged Trump over the decision not to place his business holdings in a blind trust to ensure conflicts of interest are kept in check.

On Thursday, the president returned to his Mar-a-Lago property on Palm Beach Island, the  so-called Winter White House where he has hosted world leaders, including China’s president Xi Jinping last week and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in February. County Commissioner David Kerner made headlines recently after he reportedly suggested that the resort be assigned a special-taxing status to defray Palm Beach County’s mounting security expenses during Trump’s weekend visits.

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