Posts Tagged ‘Donald Trump’

Emoluments Clause suit likely to run aground on standing

A fresh-outta-the-gate lawsuit asks the courts to step in to prevent President Donald Trump from violating the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause through his business dealings. So, Josh Blackman asks, what’s its argument for standing under Article III? Basically, it’s that “because CREW is spending time on Trump’s emolument issue, they are not able to do things they would otherwise do.” That’s remarkably weak, even under what’s left of such liberal precedents as Havens Realty Corp. v. Coleman (1982), and unlikely to persuade the courts. The ACLU is biding its time while preparing a stronger eventual case for standing by looking for a hotel or other competitor that can plausibly claim to have lost business because of transactions involving the Trump Organization and foreign states that (it expects to argue) violate the clause. Even if litigants succeed in obtaining standing in some case, they will still face a daunting barrier in the state of the doctrine on justiciability and political questions, which could lead the courts to step back and defer to Congress as the appropriate branch to devise a remedy. Earlier here.

More: Jonathan Adler on Twitter comes to similar conclusions about standing — “It’s as if complaint is just a PR exercise” — and notes that Prof. Erwin Chemerinsky, who backs the new suit, argued earlier that Texas and other states, for lack of injury, had no standing to challenge the Obama administration’s DAPA immigration action. “If no standing because Texas had ‘choice’ not to issue drivers licenses, CREW has a choice not to worry about emoluments.” And from Derek Muller:

Free speech roundup

  • Good news for Donald Trump! Sticking with speech-protective opinion rule, New York judge dismisses libel suit by PR consultant against him based on his derogatory tweets [ABA Journal]
  • “Jawboning” at FCC, under which media companies bend to commissioners’ wishes on content and hiring rather than risk their disapproval, should be recognized as danger to both First Amendment and rule of law [Brent Skorup and Christopher Koopman, Regulation via Cato Institute Tumblr summary]
  • The family of Ahmed Mohamed, of schoolboy clock fame, may have to pay $200,000 or more to targets of frivolous libel suits [Popehat]
  • Harsh epithets, calls for investigation and accusations of whitewashing, rhetorical comparisons to infamous persons could all lead to media liability if D.C. Court of Appeals reasoning in Michael Mann case isn’t overturned [Ilya Shapiro and Thomas Berry, Cato, earlier]
  • NYC, San Francisco criminalize listing property on AirBnB except on authorized conditions. A question of commercial speech [Glenn Lammi, WLF]
  • Can Colorado regulate groups that run ads with the message “call your lawmaker to support this bill”? [Ilya Shapiro and Thomas Berry]

About that “Trump and the Russian law firm of the year” story

You’ve probably seen the “Donald Trump represented on ethics issue by Russian law firm of the year” story. And if you paid it only fleeting attention, you may not have recognized it as a classic instance of outrage clickbait fluff.

The firm turns out to be the venerable and far-flung firm of Morgan Lewis & Bockius, eighth largest in the U.S. and thirteenth largest in the world, per the American Lawyer rankings. Sheri Dillon, a tax specialist associated with Morgan’s Washington, D.C. office, was on hand at the press conference to assist Trump in his presentation on conflict of interest avoidance. Typical of BigLaw firms, Morgan employs much high-level legal talent — Texas Senator Ted Cruz practiced there — and represents all sorts of figures in public life and the political world. Not unusually for a world BigLaw leader, Morgan has an office in Moscow among its dozens of other offices worldwide; that outpost won plaudits for its success by one private group that rates lawyers.

As Snopes soon found, “Donald Trump is not the only high-level politician to have engaged the services of Morgan Lewis. In October 2016, Hillary Clinton used the firm” to help vet potential appointees. The Barack Obama campaign also used Morgan’s services.

Outfits that saw fit to treat this tale as important news included CNN, The Daily Beast, The Week (“Just let that sink in for a second”), The Independent, and many more. In some cases, publications circled back with rewrites as word began to get out that it might be sort of a non-story after all: whatever interesting connections there might be between Trump and Russia, this wasn’t one of them. In the meantime, the story had gotten countless thousands of outrage-shares.

For a somewhat similar instance of randomly connecting BigLaw dots in a wildly misleading way that failed to go viral — it concerned the firm of Sutherland, Asbill, and Brennan, also known for its tax expertise — see this 2013 post.

Free speech roundup

Fighting the last war, on courts and executive power

Some on the left are still blasting judges as activist for standing up to Obama administration assertions of executive power in the regulatory sphere. That might prove shortsighted considering what’s on the agenda for the next four years, or so I argue in a piece in Sunday’s Providence Journal.

I take particular exception to a Bloomberg View column in which Noah Feldman, professor at Harvard Law, assails federal district judge Amos Mazzant III for enjoining the Department of Labor’s overtime rule for mid-level employees (earlier). In a gratuitous personal jab, Feldman raises the question of “whether Mazzant sees an opportunity for judicial advancement with this anti-regulatory judgment” in light of the election results, though he offers not a particle of evidence that the judge, an Obama appointee, is angling for higher appointment under the new administration.

The problems with the overtime rule were both substantive and procedural. As I mention in the piece, “more than 145 charitable nonprofits signed a letter begging the department to allow more than a 60-day public comment period. It refused.” That letter is here (via, see Aug. 5, 2015 entry). I also mention that a court recently struck down the Department of Labor’s very bad “persuader rule” that would have regulated management-side lawyers and consultants; more on that from Daniel Fisher, the ABA Journal, and earlier.

After pointing out that many of the rulings restraining the Obama administration have been written or joined by Democratic-appointed judges, I go on to say:

Judges rule all the time against the partisan side that appointed them.

And we’ll be glad of that when the Trump executive orders and regulations begin to hit, and Republican-appointed federal judges are asked to restrain a Republican White House, as they have often done in the past.

We should be celebrating an energetic judiciary that shows a watchful spirit against the encroachments of presidential power.

Trump and regulatory retaliation: a letter

Here’s a letter to the editor I sent to the Washington Post that they didn’t publish, responding to a piece by their business columnist Steven Pearlstein.

To the editor:

Steven Pearlstein (Dec. 2) writes with apparent approval of the prospect that President Trump will “make an example of a runaway company by sending in the tax auditors or the OSHA inspectors or cancelling a big government contract. It won’t matter that, two years later, these highly publicized retaliations are thrown out by a federal judge somewhere. Most companies …will find a way to conform to the new norm.”

I was reminded of Paul Farhi’s revealing story in the Post last March about Donald Trump’s prolonged, losing libel suit against reporter Timothy O’Brien. Per that report, Trump “said in an interview that he knew he couldn’t win the suit but brought it anyway to make a point. “I spent a couple of bucks on legal fees, and they spent a whole lot more. I did it to make his life miserable, which I’m happy about.”

The knowing use of a flimsy legal case to retaliate or intimidate, to inflict punishments or extract concessions a judge would never have ordered, is no more excusable when aimed at other sorts of businesses and professionals than when aimed at the press and reporters. In both cases it is wrong, it sets a bullying example to others, and it endangers the impartial rule of law.

— W.O.

(cross-posted from Cato at Liberty)

Free speech roundup

  • Tomorrow (Tues., Dec. 6) Cato Digital presents panel discussion “Free Speech in the Age of Trump” with Flemming Rose, Nick Gillespie, and Kat Murti [register or watch live online]
  • Eventually, Supreme Court will have to consider a First Amendment challenge to cyberbullying laws [ABA Journal]
  • Tactical use of libel suits cries out for remedy, but some remedies that are being proposed are hard to square with federalism [Sasha Moss, R Street]
  • Bill pending in Congress to protect consumer reviews (Yelp, etc.) would allow special restrictions on speech “inappropriate with respect to race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, or other intrinsic characteristic” which could prove an ominous precedent [Eugene Volokh]
  • Is there a prospect for sanctions should Donald Trump sue the press for defamation? [Eric Turkewitz, pre-election if that matters]
  • Count the ways: “The government has double standards about freedom of speech” [Hans Bader]

Trump’s business interests and the Emoluments Clause

Given the complex ongoing dealings between the Trump Organization and foreign governments, the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution will require Congress to “decide what it is willing to live with in the way of Trump conflicts” — and it should draw those lines before the fact, not after. That’s what I argue in a new Philadelphia Inquirer piece. Excerpt:

…Trump points out that the president is exempt from the conflict-of-interest laws that bind Congress and the judiciary, but that doesn’t mean he will escape scrutiny from public opinion or from the body of federal law as a whole, including the Emoluments Clause.

That clause reads in relevant part: “And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under [the United States] , 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.”…

The wording of the clause itself points one way to resolution: Congress can give consent, as it did in the early years of the Republic to presents received by Ben Franklin and John Jay. …

…it can’t be good for America to generate a series of possible impeachable offenses from a running stream of controversies about whether arm’s-length prices were charged in transactions petty or grand. …

There is no doubt that doing the right thing poses genuine difficulties for Trump not faced by other recent presidents. If he signals that he understands the nature of the problem, it would not be unreasonable to ask for extra time to solve it.

For more detail, Randall Eliason has a helpful explainer, e.g. on why Emoluments Clause issues do not map well onto the concept of “bribery.” (Bribery is subject to a separate ban, while both presents and some other payments can violate the Emoluments Clause even if given and received with the purest of motives.)

Update: With Trump’s announcement this morning that he intends to step back from management involvement with the Trump Organization, I’ve adapted this post into a longer piece at Cato at Liberty on what comes next. I quote Prof. Bainbridge, who’s got a second round of observations here.

Yet more: memos shed light on how the Department of Justice has construed the obligations of the Emoluments Clause over many decades. And the Washington Examiner, which recently welcomed Tim Carney as new opinion editor, suggests an “occluded trust.”

Can and should the classroom remain politically neutral?

It’s a common hope that public schools will maintain some semblance of broad political neutrality between the great parties and causes in U.S. society. But many have been failing badly at this [Frederick Hess and Chester Finn/U.S. News, AP/Fox News (San Francisco teachers’ union lesson plan)] Related: Washington Post [Montgomery County, Maryland; liberal excused-absence policy following street protests by high school students; dissident student injured]

I’ve got a letter in the Frederick News-Post responding to the paper’s editorial on these topics, which begins with the unfortunate headline “Hate speech is not free speech” and never recovers its footing from there. Related, from Eugene Volokh last year: “No, there’s no ‘hate speech exception to the First Amendment.” (& welcome Instapundit readers)