The hearing Wednesday marked the first public airing of arguments over the scope of the provisions and the definition of an “emolument.” Democrats in Congress and the attorneys general of the District of Columbia and Maryland filed similar lawsuits in June.
Brett Shumate, a Justice Department lawyer, told U.S. District Judge George Daniels that an emolument should be defined as a benefit conferred in return for a personal service provided by the officeholder.
“Why doesn’t emolument mean compensation?” asked Judge Daniels, who is considering the government’s motion to throw out the case. “Why do we need a more complicated definition?”
At one point, Mr. Shumate reluctantly agreed that the emoluments clauses could reach private business transactions, in response to a question from Judge Daniels, who asked whether the Constitution would allow the president to accept $1 million from a foreign government seeking his signature on a treaty.
Under Judge Daniels’ hypothetical, instead of paying the president directly, however, the foreign government would buy $1 million in hotdogs from the president’s hotdog-vending business.