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Supreme Court ends Trump emoluments lawsuits

  Business  -   POSTED: 2021/01/24 10:50

The Supreme Court on Monday brought an end to lawsuits over whether Donald Trump illegally profited off his presidency, saying the cases are moot now that Trump is no longer in office.

The high court’s action was the first in an expected steady stream of orders and rulings on pending lawsuits involving Trump now that his presidency has ended. Some orders may result in dismissals of cases since Trump is no longer president. In other cases, proceedings that had been delayed because Trump was in the White House could resume and their pace even quicken.

The justices threw out Trump’s challenge to lower court rulings that had allowed lawsuits to go forward alleging that he violated the Constitution’s emoluments clause by accepting payments from foreign and domestic officials who stay at the Trump International Hotel and patronize other businesses owned by the former president and his family.

The high court also ordered the lower court rulings thrown out as well and directed appeals courts in New York and Richmond, Virginia, to dismiss the suits as moot now that Trump is no longer in office.

The outcome leaves no appellate court opinions on the books in an area of the law that has been rarely explored in U.S. history.

The cases involved suits filed by Maryland and the District of Columbia, and high-end restaurants and hotels in New York and Washington, D.C., that “found themselves in the unenviable position of having to compete with businesses owned by the President of the United States.”

The suits sought financial records showing how much state and foreign governments have paid the Trump Organization to stay and eat at Trump-owned properties.

The cases never reached the point where any records had to be turned over. But Karl Racine and Brian Frosh, the attorneys general of Washington, D.C., and Maryland, respectively, said in a joint statement that a ruling by a federal judge in Maryland that went against Trump “will serve as precedent that will help stop anyone else from using the presidency or other federal office for personal financial gain the way that President Trump has over the past four years.”

Other cases involving Trump remain before the Supreme Court, or in lower courts.

Trump is trying to block the Manhattan district attorney ’s enforcement of a subpoena for his tax returns, part of a criminal investigation into the president and his businesses. Lower courts are weighing congressional subpoenas for Trump’s financial records. And the justices also have before them Trump’s appeal of a decision forbidding him from blocking critics on his Twitter account. Like the emoluments cases, Trump’s appeal would seem to be moot now that he is out of office and also had his Twitter account suspended.

Republican senators and some legal scholars have said that Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate cannot proceed now that he is once again a private citizen. But many scholars have said that Trump’s return to private life poses no impediment to an impeachment trial.


Attorney General Gordon MacDonald was confirmed Friday as chief justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court, 18 months after he was initially rejected for the position.

Republicans won a 4-1 majority on the Executive Council in November, ousting Democrats who had blocked MacDonald’s confirmation in July 2019. He will replace Chief Justice Robert Lynn, who retired in August that year.

While MacDonald had broad support from the legal community — including from Lynn and his two predecessors — opponents questioned his lack of experience as a judge and his involvement in conservative Republican politics.

MacDonald is Republican Gov. Chris Sununu’s third appointee to the high court without experience as a judge, and the first in at least a century to become chief justice without prior time on the bench.

During a public hearing Thursday, MacDonald said his experience, knowledge and skills have prepared him for the key duties of the job: serving as an appellate judge, acting as administrator of the entire court system and being a leader in the legal profession.

And he promised to leave his personal views at the door, scrupulously follow the law, and deliver fair, impartial decisions in a timely manner.

Councilor Joe Kenney said that neither MacDonald nor the state’s justice system is perfect, but that he was confident MacDonald would be an exceptional judge, problem solver and manager.

“I think it’s time we move on with one of our citizens here in New Hampshire, one who has exemplified true character, a legal mind and a willingness to work with people and help serve the people of the New Hampshire the best way he knows how,” he said.

Cinde Warmington, the lone Democrat on the council, insisted her vote was not political but said she had substantial concerns about his commitment to protecting fundamental rights related to health care and voting.

“I strongly believe we need a judiciary prepared to face the challenges of the day: racial injustice, political division, gender inequality. These are issues that will best be addressed by a judiciary that does not bind itself to rigid, robotic computation but one that is true to both the words of our constitution and the complexities of factual consideration in a changing world,” she said. “While I respect him, his legal scholarship and his integrity, I think a court led by Gordon MacDonald will exacerbate rather than heal the wounds of division and injustice in our state.”

In a news release titled “Justice Prevails,” Sununu called MacDonald “one of the most highly qualified individuals ever to serve as chief justice.” MacDonald will be sworn in at a later date.


A Pennsylvania woman facing charges that she helped steal a laptop from the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during the attack on the U.S. Capitol will be released from jail, a federal judge decided Thursday.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Martin Carlson directed that Riley June Williams be released into the custody of her mother, with travel restrictions, and instructed her to appear Monday in federal court in Washington to continue her case.

“The gravity of these offenses is great,” Carlson told Williams. “It cannot be overstated.”

Williams, 22, of Harrisburg, is accused of theft, obstruction and trespassing, as well as violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds. Carlson noted Williams has no prior criminal record.

The FBI says an unidentified former romantic partner of Williams tipped them off that she appeared in video from the Jan. 6 rioting and the tipster claimed she had hoped to sell the computer to Russian intelligence.

Williams’ defense lawyer, Lori Ulrich, told Carlson the tipster is a former boyfriend who had been abusive to Williams and that “his accusations are overstated.”

Video from the riot shows a woman matching Williams’ description exhorting invaders to go “upstairs, upstairs, upstairs” during the attack, which briefly disrupted certification of President Joe Biden’s electoral victory.

“It is regrettable that Ms. Williams took the president’s bait and went inside the Capitol,” Ulrich told the judge.

Williams surrendered to face charges on Monday. She was expected to leave the county jail in Harrisburg later Thursday, and will be on electronic monitoring to await trial.


The Supreme Court on Tuesday seemed cautious about siding with oil and gas companies in a case involving global warming.

The case the court was hearing is not about whether the companies can be held responsible for harms resulting from global warming. Instead, it’s an important preliminary fight that could help determine whether similar global warming cases ultimately wind up being argued in state court or federal court, which is the companies' preference.

“I think this is a close call, this case,” Justice Brett Kavanaugh said during a little over an hour of arguments, which the justices have been hearing by phone because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The case is important to more than a dozen similar global warming lawsuits filed around the country by state and local governments against energy companies. But it’s also important to a range of other civil cases, the companies have argued, citing cases involving the aviation industry and health care as well as the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. A win for the oil and gas companies would make it easier for defendants to challenge an order sending a case from federal court back to state court.

The Trump administration has backed the oil and gas companies. Several of the eight justices who heard the case suggested that just looking at the text of federal law and at least one of the court's past cases favored the oil and gas companies, but Kavanaugh acknowledged there were also “problems” with their arguments. Justice Elena Kagan suggested at one point that the oil and gas companies' position seemed at odds with what Congress intended.

The case didn't seem necessarily destined to split the court along liberal and conservative lines. Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor, both liberals, expressed concern that ruling for the oil and gas companies could allow unnecessary delay in cases.

But conservative Justice Clarence Thomas also at one point said he couldn't “avoid the odd sense” that the oil and gas companies' argument would allow the “smuggling in” of peripheral issues to appeals courts.

The specific case the court was hearing comes from Maryland. In 2018, the mayor and City Council of Baltimore sued more than a dozen oil and gas companies in Maryland state courts. They alleged the use of oil and gas produced by the companies — including Shell, BP, Exxon and Chevron — led to greenhouse gas emissions, which contributed to global climate change and caused harm to the city.

The oil companies attempted to have the case transferred to federal court, but a federal district court sent the case back to state court. The oil and gas companies appealed, but the appeals court said it had only limited ability to review the lower court’s decision. The question for the Supreme Court is whether that’s correct.


A court in Thailand on Tuesday sentenced a former civil servant to a record prison term of 43 years and six months for breaching the country’s strict law on insulting or defaming the monarchy, lawyers said.

The Bangkok Criminal Court found the woman guilty on 29 counts of violating the country’s lese majeste law for posting audio clips to Facebook and YouTube with comments deemed critical of the monarchy, the group Thai Lawyers for Human Rights said.

The court initially announced her sentence as 87 years, but reduced it by half because she pleaded guilty to the offenses, the group said.

The sentence, which comes amid an ongoing protest movement that has seen unprecedented public criticism of the monarchy, was swiftly condemned by rights groups.

“Today’s court verdict is shocking and sends a spine-chilling signal that not only criticisms of the monarchy won’t be tolerated, but they will also be severely punished,” said Sunai Phasuk, a senior researcher for the group Human Rights Watch.

Violating Thailand’s lese majeste law — known widely as Article 112 — is punishable by three to 15 years’ imprisonment per count. The law is controversial not only because it has been used to punish things as simple as liking a post on Facebook but also because anyone — not just royals or authorities — can lodge a complaint that can tie up the person accused in legal proceedings for years.

During Thailand’s last 15 years of political unrest, the law has frequently been used as a political weapon as well as in personal vendettas. Actual public criticism of the monarchy, however, had until recently been extremely rare.

That changed during the past year, when young protesters calling for democratic reforms also issued calls for the reform of the monarchy, which has long been regarded as an almost sacred institution by many Thais. The protesters have said the institution is unaccountable and holds too much power in what is supposed to be a democratic constitutional monarchy.

Authorities at first let much of the commentary and criticism go without charge, but since November have arrested about 50 people and charged them with lese majeste.

Sunai said Tuesday’s sentence was likely meant to send a message.

“It can be seen that Thai authorities are using lese majeste prosecution as their last resort measure in response to the youth-led democracy uprising that seeks to curb the king’s powers and keep him within the bound of constitutional rule. Thailand’s political tensions will now go from bad to worse,” he said.

After King Maha Vajralongkorn took the throne in 2016 following his father’s death, he informed the government that he did not wish to see the lese majeste law used. But as the protests grew last year, and the criticism of the monarchy got harsher, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha warned a line had been crossed and the law would be used.


Billionaire Samsung scion Lee Jae-yong was sent back to prison on Monday after a South Korean court handed him a two and a half-year sentence for his involvement in a 2016 corruption scandal that spurred massive protests and ousted South Korea’s then-president.

In a much-anticipated retrial, the Seoul High Court found Lee guilty of bribing then-President Park Geun-hye and her close confidante to win government support for a 2015 merger between two Samsung affiliates. The deal helped strengthen his control over the country’s largest business group.

Lee’s lawyers had portrayed him as a victim of presidential power abuse and described the 2015 deal as part of “normal business activity.”  Wearing a mask and black suit and tie, Lee was taken into custody following the ruling. He didn’t answer questions by reporters upon his arrival at the court.

Injae Lee, an attorney who leads Lee Jae-yong’s defense team, expressed regret over the court’s decision, saying that the “essence of the case is that a former president abused power to infringe upon the freedom and property rights of a private company.”

He didn’t specifically say whether there would be an appeal. Samsung didn’t issue a statement over the ruling.  Lee Jae-yong helms the Samsung group in his capacity as vice chairman of Samsung Electronics, one of the world’s largest makers of computer chips and smartphones.

In September last year, prosecutors separately indicted Lee on charges of stock price manipulation, breach of trust and auditing violations related to the 2015 merger.

It isn’t immediately clear what his prison term would mean for Samsung. Samsung didn’t show much signs of trouble during the previous time Lee spent in jail in 2017 and 2018, and prison terms have never really stopped South Korean corporate leaders from relaying their management decisions from behind bars.

Samsung is coming off a robust business year, with its dual strength in parts and finished products enabling it to benefit from the coronavirus pandemic and the prolonged trade war between United States and China.

Samsung’s semiconductor business rebounded sharply after a sluggish 2019, driven by robust demand for PCs and servers as virus outbreaks forced millions of people to stay and work at home.

The Trump administration’s sanctions against China’s Huawei Technologies have meanwhile hindered one of Samsung’s biggest rivals in smartphones, smartphone chips and telecommunications equipment.



Amid insurrection and impeachment, the Supreme Court's big news Thursday was a decision in a bankruptcy case. Wednesday brought arguments over the Federal Trade Commission's ability to recapture ill-gotten gains.

At this fraught moment in U.S. history, the court is doing its best to keep its head down, going about its regular business and putting off as many politically charged issues as it can, including whether President Donald Trump's tax returns must be turned over to prosecutors in New York.

Still, the justices have not been able to completely avoid controversy in recent days. On Tuesday, the court's conservative majority that includes three Trump appointees cleared the way for the administration to execute a woman for the first time in 67 years and also allowed the administration to reinstate a requirement that pregnant women wanting an abortion pick up a pill in person from a medical facility, despite the risks of contracting COVID-19.

The court's work continues even though the coronavirus pandemic is preventing the justices from meeting in person, either for their private conferences or argument sessions. Chief Justice John Roberts has received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, but not every member of the court has, the court said.

The building itself has been closed to the public since March because of the pandemic. Since the weekend, it has been ringed by hard-to-climb fences that also surround the Capitol.

But arguments this week took place as if nothing out of the ordinary was happening, although the ability to listen live to the arguments is a product of the pandemic. Justices made pop culture references to Taylor Swift and the Netflix series “Dirty Money.”

They issued a unanimous decision in a bankruptcy case from Chicago, and they are convening again in private on Friday to discuss new cases to add to their docket.

The workmanlike approach is typical of the court, but it also aligns with the repeated efforts of Roberts to keep his court out of politics as much as possible, especially during Trump's presidency.

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