Latest conservative attack on Obama Nobel: Prize is "unconstitutional"


Following the Nobel Committee's announcement that it would award the Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama, conservative media figures have launched numerous attacks on Obama and the award, asserting, for instance, that Obama won the prize "for trashing America," in Sean Hannity's words, or that the prize is an "affirmative action Nobel," as Pat Buchanan and RedState's Erick Erickson asserted. In the latest attempt to discredit Obama's Nobel Prize, conservatives have claimed that his acceptance of the award violates the emolument clause of the Constitution, despite the fact that previous sitting officials have accepted foreign awards in the past.

Conservatives argue emolument clause bars Obama from accepting prize

Rotunda, Pham in Wash. Post: Prize "belongs to the United States," should be used for "reducing the deficit." Chapman University Law professor Ronald Rotunda and Peter Pham, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), wrote in an October 16 Washington Post op-ed that Obama "has run afoul of the emolument clause" since "the award of the peace prize is made by a body representing the legislature of a sovereign foreign state," and the Constitution requires congressional consent for such a gift. Rotunda and Pham recommended that the prize money "be applied by Congress to some worthy cause, such as reducing the deficit." They further asserted that Obama's acceptance of "the bejeweled Collar of the King Abdul Aziz Order of Merit" from King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia violated the Constitution and that the gift should be returned until the Saudis "recogniz[e] the right of Israel to live in peace within secure borders." Rotunda previously advised Ken Starr during the Clinton administration, and Pham now works with FDD, a notably conservative think tank. FDD president Clifford May previously served as communications director for the Republican National Committee. In 2007, May appeared in the media several times to defend the Bush administration's conduct in the Iraq war without disclosing that FDD had received at least $1.2 million in State Department grants, or that he advised then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on democracy promotion.

Washington Examiner's Freire: Prize "is precisely the sort of lobbying the Framers were concerned about." In an October 9 post, J.P. Freire asked, "Can a sitting president receive a Nobel Peace Prize?" Citing both the emolument clause and a section of the U.S. code, Freire concluded that "to play it safe ... [Obama] should have Congress do a quick vote to allow him to accept the award." Freire also stated that "the law definitely appears to discourage this sort of thing" and added in an October 12 post that "[b]y coincidence, Federalist Paper No. 22 uses Sweden as an example of the ability of foreign powers to meddle in domestic affairs. (At various points, Sweden and Norway have shared power, with Sweden running foreign affairs while Norway ran domestic affairs.)"

Politico's Gerstein forwards Bush official's legal "concern[s]." In a Politico blog post, Josh Gerstein wrote that "[g]overnment ethics experts said [Obama] would be ill-advised to keep [the prize money] or even to turn it over to charity." But Gerstein cited only Richard Painter, an ethics counsel under President Bush. Gerstein quoted Painter's statement that "[t]urning the gift over to charity is something we usually would advise against in the Bush Administration," and that the emolument clause "is a concern. ... [S]eems to me if I were giving him counsel I'd say accept the prize without the money." [Politico, 10/9/09]

Sitting U.S. officials have accepted prize, other foreign awards in the past

UCLA's Eugene Volokh: Law professors noted Roosevelt, Wilson prizes weren't authorized by Congress. Volokh wrote, "Some law professors to whom I posed the question noted that when Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson got the Prizes while sitting Presidents, no Congressional Act was passed to authorize the acceptance of the awards. (I don't know what happened when Henry Kissinger received an award while he was still in the Nixon Administration.)" Volokh added that the question remains as to "whether the award is from a foreign State, in which case the money and the prize promptly become U.S. property, or whether they are not, in which case the President would presumably be allowed to keep them or donate them to charity." [The Volokh Conspiracy, 10/9/09]

Adam Blickstein: Schwarzkopf, Greenspan received honorary knighthoods while they were still serving. Blickstein wrote that "[a]ccording to Rotunda and Pham's argument," Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf's acceptance of an honorary knighthood from Queen Elizabeth while an active-duty service member "violated all kinds of constitutional constraints, Emolument Clause notwithstanding," and that Alan Greenspan also "should have fallen victim to the Emolument Clause as the authors of the Op-Ed envision it." [Democracy Arsenal, 10/15/09]

Posted In
Government, The Presidency & White House
The Washington Post, Washington Examiner
Josh Gerstein, J.P. Friere
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