US Constitution: Article I, Section 9

Constitutional Restrictions on the Legislative Branch

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Article 1, Section 9 of the U.S. Constitution places limits on the powers of Congress, the Legislative Branch. These restrictions include those on limiting the slave trade, suspending civil and legal protections of citizens, apportionment of direct taxes, and granting titles of nobility.

It also prevents government employees and officials from accepting foreign gifts and titles, known as emoluments.

Article I - The Legislative Branch - Section 9

Clause 1, Importation of Enslaved People

"Clause 1: The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a Tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each Person."

Explanation: This clause relates to the slave trade. It prevented Congress from restricting the importation of enslaved people before 1808. It did allow Congress to levy a duty of up to 10 dollars for each enslaved person. In 1807, the international slave trade was blocked and no more enslaved people were allowed to be imported legally into the United States. The enslavement of African people was still legal, however, within the United States until the end of the Civil War and the passage of the 13th Amendment in 1865.

Clause 2, Habeas Corpus

"Clause 2: The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it."

Explanation: Habeas corpus is the right to be held in jail only if there are specific, legitimate charges filed against you in court. A person can't be detained indefinitely without legal process. This was suspended during the Civil War and for detainees in the War on Terror held at Guantanamo Bay.

Clause 3, Bills of Attainder and Ex Post Facto Laws

"Clause 3: No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed."

Explanation: A bill of attainder is a way that a legislature acts as a judge and jury, declaring that a person or group of people are guilty of a crime and stating the punishment. An ex post facto law criminalizes acts retroactively, allowing people to be prosecuted for acts that weren't illegal at the time they did them.

Clause 4-7, Taxes and Congressional Spending

"Clause 4: No Capitation, or other direct, Tax shall be laid, unless in Proportion to the Census or Enumeration herein before directed to be taken."

"Clause 5: No Tax or Duty shall be laid on Articles exported from any State."

"Clause 6: No Preference shall be given by any Regulation of Commerce or Revenue to the Ports of one State over those of another: nor shall Vessels bound to, or from, one State, be obliged to enter, clear, or pay Duties in another."

"Clause 7: No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law; and a regular Statement and Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time."

Explanation: These clauses set limits on how taxes can be levied. Originally, an income tax would not have been allowed, but this was authorized by the 16th Amendment in 1913. These clauses prevent taxes from being levied on trade between states. Congress must pass tax legislation to spend the public money and they must show how they have spent the money.

Clause 8, Titles of Nobility and Emoluments

"Clause 8: No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State."

Explanation: Congress can't make you a Duke, Earl, or even a Marquis. If you are a civil servant or elected official, you can't accept anything from a foreign government or official, including an honorary title or an office. This clause prevents any government official from receiving foreign gifts without the permission of Congress.

What are Emoluments?

Clause 8, the so-called “Emoluments Clause,” specifies that no elected or appointed U.S. government official—including the president of the United States—may accept payments from foreign governments during their terms in office.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines emoluments as “returns arising from office or employment usually in the form of compensation or perquisites.”

Constitutional scholars suggest the Emoluments Clause was added to prevent American ambassadors of the 1700s, living abroad from being influenced or corrupted by gifts from wealthy European powers.

Past examples of violations of the Emoluments Clause by some of America’s Founding Fathers include Benjamin Franklin’s acceptance of diamond-covered snuffbox from the King of France and John Jay’s acceptance of a purebred stallion from the King of Spain.

Early in the Donald Trump administration, a novel dispute arose concerning whether the President had violated the Emoluments Clause by illegally profiting from his business ventures while in public office.

The dispute resulted in a lawsuit filed by Washington, DC, and Maryland attorneys claiming that President Trump had violated the Constitution by accepting payments from foreign and domestic governments through the Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC. Records showed that between November 2016 and February 2017, Saudi Arabia’s payments to the Trump Hotel totaled more than $270,000. The payments had come just a few months before Trump had authorized one of the largest arms deals to Saudi Arabia in US history.

On January 25, 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed the suit, unanimously finding that no case or controversy remained because Trump was no longer in office.

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Longley, Robert. "US Constitution: Article I, Section 9." ThoughtCo, Jul. 3, 2021, Longley, Robert. (2021, July 3). US Constitution: Article I, Section 9. Retrieved from Longley, Robert. "US Constitution: Article I, Section 9." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 22, 2023).