Does Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance violate the Constitution?

Interesting question. Article I, Section 9 of the U.S. Constitution says that:

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.

An emolument is a prize arising from office or employment, usually in the form of compensation or perquisites. By everyone’s admission, President Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize for nothing already accomplished but only because he showed potential as the new President of the United States. The awardee receives a framed diploma, a nifty medal and a document confirming the prize amount – now $1.4 million.

On top of that, the Prize is given by a five-member commission chosen by the parliament of Norway, the legislative body of a foreign state. Even if that state is not acting in its official capacity, as Ronald Rotunda and Peter Pham pointed out in their column on this issue in The Washington Post, the emoluments ban still applies (a point confirmed by President Clinton’s Office of Legal Counsel in 1993).

The original purpose of the emoluments clause was to prevent undue foreign meddling in our affairs—as pointed out in our own The Heritage Guide to the Constitution by Robert Delahunty:

“Wary, however, of the possibility that such gestures might unduly influence American officials in their dealings with foreign states, the Framers institutionalized the practice of requiring the consent of Congress before one could accept “any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from … [a] foreign State.”

This seems to me to be a pretty clear case in which the award, an emolument, should have been consented to by Congress.

But let’s follow the money for a moment.

According to the U.S. Code [Title 5, Part III, Subpart F, Chapter 73, Subchapter IV, Section 7342], on the Receipt and disposition of foreign gifts and decorations], if Congress did not consent to the acceptance of the gift, “the decoration is deemed to have been accepted on behalf of the United States, shall become the property of the United States, and shall be deposited by the employee, within sixty days of acceptance, with the employing agency for official use.”

This means that the financial award—and anything else worth more than a minimal gift amount—does not belong to President Obama, but is the property of the United States, to be appropriately disposed of by the administrator of General Services (according to the same code).

Theodore Roosevelt, conscious of this dilemma, not only waited to receive the prize until after he left the presidency but turned over the money to a committee, including the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States and the Secretaries of Agriculture and Commerce and Labor, to be used for the basis of an appropriate foundation in the United States. (Hat tip: J.P. Freire at the Washington Examiner.)

So, Mr. President, don’t spend that money just yet! You’ve got sixty days to get it to the rightful owners, namely, us. Should we pay down the debt? A tax cut? Maybe just use it to cover the cost of the trip.