[Note FURTHER UPDATE below.]
J.P. Freire (Washington Examiner) asks this, in relation to the constitutional provision that reads (emphasis added),
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.
The Prize is apparently awarded by a Committee selected by the Norwegian Parliament; does it qualify as a present given by a “foreign State,” or does the Committee’s speaking for itself rather than for Norway suggest that the present does not come from a foreign State?
[UPDATE: I should note that the question isn’t about the money; I suspect the President could use the statutory authorization to accept the money on behalf of the U.S. on the grounds that “it appears that to refuse the gift would likely cause offense or embarrassment or otherwise adversely affect the foreign relations of the United States.” Rather, the question is about the Prize itself, which I take it is personal and can’t be sensibly accepted on behalf of the nation as a whole — though perhaps that need not be so, given the statute’s position that even military decorations can be accepted on behalf of the United States.]
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.) But while longstanding tradition may carry a good deal of weight in such situations, I would think that two likely fairly low-profile decisions, over a century after the enactment of the Constitution, are not enough to settle the matter.
I should stress that I by no means want to deny the President the Peace Prize. I think the decision reflects that the Peace Prize is a political statement, not an award for actual signal accomplishment on the path to peace; I much hope that President Obama can promote peace, and if he does I’ll applaud him for it (of course unless the peace is bought at too high a price), but it seems to me that his steps so far have been in the hope, intention, and planning phases and not in the actual accomplishment phase. But now that he’s gotten it, he should certainly be able to accept it. The question is whether he would need Congressional approval, approval that I’m sure Congress would be happy to provide.
A related question, by the way, is whether Congressmen might want to introduce such a proposed statute, precisely to try to create a new constitutional tradition going forward, a tradition that future Congresses and Presidents might feel constrained to follow.
FURTHER UPDATE: On further reflection, I’ve come around to the view that the President may indeed accept both the money and the prize, but if they are treated as being from a “foreign State,” then both will be “deemed to have been accepted on behalf of the United States and, upon acceptance, shall become the property of the United States.” Congress seems to have authorized that prospectively, as to all presents generally, and that satisfies the constitutional mandate. Thanks to all those who’ve commented on this!
But this of course still leaves the question 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 (politically much more likely than keeping them, at least as to the money). To be safe, it seems to me, the President should just transfer the money and the prize to the U.S. government, but it’s an interesting legal question whether he has to. There may of course also be statutes mandating that the President and other officials not keep certain gifts, though I don’t know what their terms exactly would be.
By the way, note that the relevant statute further defines “foreign government,” though this definition is binding for purposes of the obligation that it imposes, not necessarily for purposes of the separate prohibition imposed by the Constitution:
(A) any unit of foreign governmental authority, including any foreign national, State, local, and municipal government;
(B) any international or multinational organization whose membership is composed of any unit of foreign government described in subparagraph (A); and
(C) any agent or representative of any such unit or such organization, while acting as such.
So is the Nobel Committee an agent or representative of the Parliament that appointed it, or not?