Were that the case, Judge Daniels said, the Constitution would not have given Congress the power to allow a president to receive a foreign gift or benefit without considering how the president’s business rivals might be affected.
Judge Daniels also said that it was up to Congress, not the courts, to decide whether Mr. Trump had violated the Constitution by accepting a gift or benefit from a foreign government.
“This court will not tell Congress how it should or should not assert its power in responding the defendant’s alleged violations of the foreign Emoluments Clause,” he wrote. “In short, unless and until Congress speaks on this issue, plaintiffs’ foreign Emoluments Clause claims are not ripe for adjudication.”
In a statement, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a nonprofit legal watchdog group that initiated the lawsuit, called the ruling “a setback.” But Noah Bookbinder, the organization’s executive director, said, “We will not walk away from this serious and ongoing constitutional violation.”
The ruling is believed to be the first in 230 years interpreting what the constitutional framers meant by the emoluments clauses.
Two other lawsuits accusing Mr. Trump of similar violations are still pending. They claim Mr. Trump has illegally profiteered from his businesses in a number of ways, including accepting payments from foreign officials who patronize his hotels and accepting trademark approvals from foreign governments for his company’s goods and services.
The suits are part of a coordinated effort by critics of the president to force Mr. Trump to either sell his business holdings or place them in a blind trust. Mr. Trump’s opponents hope that at least one case will proceed to a stage where plaintiffs will be allowed to demand documentation of Mr. Trump’s finances, including his tax returns.
A lawsuit brought in June by the attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia accused Mr. Trump of depriving facilities owned by their governments of business. Some legal experts have suggested that case may be less likely to be dismissed out of hand because Maryland is considered a “coequal sovereign” of the president, giving it stronger legal grounds to sue.
The third federal lawsuit was filed in June by nearly 200 Democratic members of Congress. Some legal authorities consider that suit to be a purely political move, with little likelihood of success.