OLC Publishes Opinion on Obama’s Nobel Prize
By Joe Palazzolo | April 16, 2010 10:36 am

The Office of Legal Counsel has published an opinion that advised President Barack Obama that his receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize would not violate the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause.

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama arrive at the Nobel Peace Prize Award Ceremony in the Oslo City Hall. (The Nobel Institute)

The opinion, released publicly on Friday, was issued on Dec. 7, 2009, three days before Obama accepted the award in Oslo, Norway.

The Emoluments Clause states that “no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under [the United States], 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.”

Obama’s spoils included $1.4 million, a certificate and a gold medal bearing the image of Alfred Nobel.

OLC noted that “the Norwegian government has no meaningful role” in choosing the prize recipients or financing the prize itself and that the private, Sweden-based Nobel Foundation is responsible for administration of the award.

The OLC opinion, signed by acting Assistant Attorney General David Barron, explains

The President surely “hold[s] an[] Office of Profit or Trust,” and the Peace Prize, including its monetary award, is a “present” or “Emolument . . . of any kind whatever.” U.S. Const. art I, § 9, cl. 8. The critical question, therefore, concerns the status of the institution that makes the award. Based on the consistent historical practice of the political branches for more than a century with respect to receipt of the Peace Prize by high federal officials, as well as our Office’s precedents interpreting the Emoluments Clause in other contexts, we conclude that the President in accepting the Prize would not be accepting anything from a “foreign State” within the Clause’s meaning. Accordingly, we do not believe that the President’s acceptance of the Peace Prize without congressional consent would violate the Emoluments Clause.

The opinion notes that two former sitting presidents — Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson — along with Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and three other high officials — have previously received the Peace Prize.

Click here for a copy of the full opinion.

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