What Is The Emoluments Clause? Full Definition And Text Of Constitutional Ban on Foreign Conflicts Of Interest

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Trump Tower stands along 5th Avenue in Manhattan as police stand guard outside following an earlier protest against Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in front of the building on March 12, 2016 in New York City. Getty Images/Spencer Platt

President Donald Trump violated the United States Constitution by refusing to sell off his considerable business empire before entering the White House, a top government watchdog group alleged in a lawsuit that finally made it into a courtroom this week.

First filed three days into Trump’s administration, the suit, led by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, states the president’s businesses are receiving payments — or emoluments — from foreign governments that hope to get better deals from and with the commander-in-chief.

CREW, along with co-plaintiffs that include hotel and restaurant owners in New York and others, got its first day in court Wednesday in the U.S. Southern District of New York. Now the court must decide if the first such emoluments clause case can move forward.

"It's the first time that a court is going to be hearing arguments about the Emoluments Clause, what an emolument is, what the president actually is prohibited from doing under the Constitution," CREW’s executive director Noah Bookbinder told NPR.

The word and clause do sound odd but could become part of the new political vocabulary that’s taken over the country much like first-time politician Trump. Think Comey, Mar-a-Lago and “Rocket Man.”

But it does have a practical, reasonable and explainable application and definition.

The clause is tucked inside Article I, Section 9 of the United States Constitution and reads: “No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State."

Essentially, the suit claims that Trump’s business interests, particularly his properties like Trump Tower and the Trump International Hotel in Washington D.C., open him to conflicts of interest.

“These violations of the Foreign Emoluments Clause pose a grave threat to the United States and its citizens,” the CREW lawsuit reads. “As the Framers were aware, private financial interests can subtly sway even the most virtuous leaders, and entanglements between American officials and foreign powers could pose a creeping, insidious threat to the Republic.”

One example cited in the suit came 10 days after Trump was elected. Foreign diplomats began to flock to the Washington hotel many said it simply made sense to stay there with Trump in office, The Washington Post reported.

“Why wouldn’t I stay at his hotel blocks from the White House, so I can tell the new president, ‘I love your new hotel!’ Isn’t it rude to come to his city and say, ‘I am staying at your competitor?’” a diplomat told The Post.

In turn, the assertion is that Trump’s hotel is raking in money, which the court could decide represents a gift – or emolument – from a foreign government.

Now it’s up to Southern District court to decide if the case moves forward.