The Emoluments Clause Explained

The Emoluments Clause is contained in Article I, Section 9, Clause eight of the Constitution.

According to the Emoluments Clause, no one holding any office of profit or trust under the United States can accept a gift from a foreign country without Congress’s consent. As of this writing, the Supreme court has never ruled on the scope of the Emoluments Clause.

One argument is that the Emoluments Clause doesn’t apply to elected officials. Supporters of that argument make three points.

Other parts of the Constitution that apply to specific elected officials, like the Impeachment Clause, directly mention those officials by title. The Emoluments Clause, on the other hand, refers generally to officers of the United States.

During his presidency, George Washington accepted two personal gifts without asking for Congressional permission.

In 1792, the Senate ordered Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton to create a list of those holding office under the United States and their salaries. Hamilton’s report didn’t list any elected officials.

Those believing the Emoluments Clause applies to elected officials cite two centuries of occasions where presidents believed the Emoluments Clause applied to them.

Congress denied Andrew Jackson’s request to keep a gold medal gifted him by Simon Bolivar, the president of Columbia.

When the Imam of Musicat (present-day Oman) sent gifts to Martin Van Buren, Congress allowed Van Buren to sell the gifts and divide the proceeds between himself and the Treasury.

The Government of Ireland’s efforts to give John F. Kennedy honorary citizenship fell within the Emoluments Clause.

In 2009, the Office of Legal Counsel decided that the president is subject to the Emoluments Clause. Obama was able to keep the Nobel Peace Prize because it wasn’t offered by a king, prince, or foreign government.

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