The U.S Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Friday dismissed an emoluments-related lawsuit filed by members of Congress against President Donald Trump, ruling that the appellees lacked standing.
The three-part Article III standing test requires that the plaintiff demonstrate an “injury in fact” if a lawsuit is to move forward:
1) The plaintiff must have suffered an “injury in fact,” meaning that the injury is of a legally protected interest which is (a) concrete and particularized and (b) actual or imminent
2) There must be a causal connection between the injury and the conduct brought before the court
3) It must be likely, rather than speculative, that a favorable decision by the court will redress the injury
The court said that the 215 Members of the Congress failed that test:
The Members can, and likely will, continue to use their weighty voices to make their case to the American people, their colleagues in the Congress and the President himself, all of whom are free to engage that argument as they see fit. But we will not—indeed we cannot—participate in this debate. The Constitution permits the Judiciary to speak only in the context of an Article III case or controversy and this lawsuit presents neither.
“Here, regardless of rigor, our conclusion is straightforward because the Members—29 Senators and 186 Members of the House of Representatives—do not constitute a majority of either body and are, therefore, powerless to approve or deny the President’s acceptance of foreign emoluments,” the Court continued.
This was a predictable outcome, according to legal observers.
The panel (correctly) concluded the members of Congress lack standing.
An early report is here: https://t.co/EhOaigFz8a
— Jonathan H. Adler (@jadler1969) February 7, 2020
DC Circuit decision doesn't seem crazy to me. It effectively stands for the proposition that courts cannot be work around to Congress forming sufficient legislative coalition. The real problem is that even if the House now fixed the standing issue, the court might punt again.
— Susan Hennessey (@Susan_Hennessey) February 7, 2020
Some thought, however, that this was a “sad statement” by the court.
A sad statement from the DC Circuit:
In its 3-0 decision on standing, it never ruled on the clause's meaning, but instead emphasized Story's doubts about its effectiveness on a "corrupt agent"
Message: Constitutions don't matter.
Yes, if no one has standing to enforce it. pic.twitter.com/iJBjAngNPP
— Jed Shugerman (@jedshug) February 7, 2020
Law&Crime’s Elura Nanos previously wrote at length about the issues with the multiple emoluments lawsuit making their way through the courts. The lawsuit we now discuss, headlined by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn), was previously found by U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan to have proper standing. The appellate court judges, however, tipped their hands back in December.
Judge Thomas Griffith asked a lawyer for the individual Democratic plaintiffs, “You are not here representing the House of Representatives, are you?” “You are not here representing the Senate of the United States?” “Why does that not answer the standing issue?”
And Judge David Tatel said that recent Supreme Court precedent indicated that individual members of Congress may not have the necessary standing to move forward with the case:
What [Virginia House of Delegates v. Bethune-Hill,] says to me is that individual members of a legislature cannot sue to represent the interests of the legislature as a whole. You’re not here representing Congress, so you can’t protect the institutional interests of Congress.
The court featured Supreme Court precedent prominently in its Friday decision:
Raines is our starting point when individual members of the Congress seek judicial remedies. In that case, six members of the Congress challenged the constitutionality of the Line Item Veto Act, 2 U.S.C. §§ 691 et seq. (1994 ed., Supp. II),claiming that it “unconstitutionally expand[ed] the President’s power, and violate[d] the requirements of bicameral passage and presentment by granting to the President, acting alone, the authority to ‘cancel’ and thus repeal provisions of federal law,” Raines, 521 U.S. at 816 (first quotation marks omitted). The Raines plaintiffs alleged they were harmed because the statute “diluted their Article I voting power.” Id. at 817 (bracket omitted). The district court found the Raines plaintiffs had standing but, on direct appeal, the Supreme Court reversed, holding that they lacked standing.
This case is really no different from Raines. The Members were not singled out—their alleged injury is shared by the 320 members of the Congress who did not join the lawsuit—and their claim is based entirely on the loss of political power.
You can read the full opinion below.
Elura Nanos contributed to this report.
[Image via Mark Wilson/Getty Images]