ArtII.S1.C7.1 Emoluments Clause and Presidential Compensation

Article II, Section 1, Clause 7:

The President shall, at stated Times, receive for his Services, a Compensation, which shall neither be encreased nor diminished during the Period for which he shall have been elected, and he shall not receive within that Period any other Emolument from the United States, or any of them.

To preserve the President’s independence from Congress and state governments, Article II, Section 1, Clause 7 provides that Congress may not increase or decrease the President’s compensation during his term in office and further bars the President from receiving “any other Emolument [beyond a fixed salary] from the United States, or any of them.” 1 Consequently, Congress cannot use its control over the President’s salary to influence him; the provision accordingly reinforces the separation of powers. As Justice Joseph Story observed in his Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, “[a] control over a man’s living is in most cases a control over his actions.” 2 The Domestic Emoluments Clause—unlike the Foreign Emoluments Clause3 —does not allow Congress to assent to the President receiving otherwise prohibited emoluments from the state or federal governments.

Modeled after similar provisions in state constitutions,4 the Domestic Emoluments Clause received little attention at the Constitutional Convention.5 In the Federalist No. 73, however, Alexander Hamilton explained that the Domestic Emoluments Clause was intended to isolate the President from potentially corrupting congressional influence. Because the President’s salary is fixed “once for all” each term, Hamilton commented, Congress “can neither weaken his fortitude by operating on his necessities, nor corrupt his integrity by appealing to his avarice.” 6 Similarly, Hamilton explained that because “[n]either the Union, nor any of its members, will be at liberty to give . . . any other emolument,” the President will “have no pecuniary inducement to renounce or desert the independence intended for him by the Constitution.” 7 Other Framers echoed this sentiment during the ratification debates.8

The Domestic Emoluments Clause has been rarely analyzed or interpreted by courts during its history.9 During the administration of President Donald Trump, several litigants alleged that President Trump’s retention of certain business and financial interests violated the Foreign and Domestic Emoluments Clauses, but the Supreme Court ultimately found these cases moot without addressing their merits.10

U.S. Const. art. II, § 1, cl. 7. back
3 Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States § 1480 (1833). back
See U.S. Const. art. I, § 9, cl. 8; see ArtI.S9.C8.1 Overview of Titles of Nobility and Foreign Emoluments Clauses. back
See, e.g., Mass Const. of 1780, pt. II, ch. II, § 1, art. XIII ( “As the public good requires that the governor should not be under the undue influence . . . it is necessary that he should have an honorable stated salary, of a fixed and permanent value . . . .” ); Md. Const. of 1776, art. XXXII ( “That no person ought to hold, at the same time, more shall one office of profit, nor ought any person in public trust, to receive any present from any foreign prince or state, or from the United States, or any of them, without the approbation of this State.” ). back
Early in the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin proposed that the President should receive no compensation at all; this motion was politely postponed “with great respect, but rather for the author of it than from any apparent conviction of its expediency or practicability.” 1 Records of the Federal Convention 81-85 (Max Farrand ed., 1911) (Madison’s notes) [hereinafter Farrand’s Records]. The Convention unanimously agreed to the fixed salary provision for the President on July 20, 1787. 2 Farrand’s Records, supra, at 69. On September 15, 1787, Franklin and John Rutledge moved to bar the President from receiving “any other emolument” from the federal or state governments, which the Convention approved by a 7-4 vote without noted debate. 2 Farrand’s Records, supra, at 626. back
The Federalist No. 73 (Alexander Hamilton). back
Id. back
See, e.g., 2 The Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution 446 (Jonathan Elliot ed., 1836) (statement of James Wilson) ( “[The Domestic Emoluments Clause was designed] to secure the President from any dependence upon the legislature as to his salary.” ). back
See generally Michael A. Foster & Kevin J. Hickey, Cong. Rsch. Serv., R45992, The Emoluments Clauses and the Presidency: Background and Recent Developments (2019), The few judicial or executive decisions on the Domestic Emoluments Clause include Griffin v. United States, 935 F. Supp. 1, 3–6 (D.D.C. 1995); Nixon v. Sampson, 389 F. Supp. 107, 136–37 (D.D.C. 1975); and President Reagan’s Ability to Receive Retirement Benefits from the State of California, 5 Op. O.L.C. 187 (1981). back
For an overview of that litigation, see ArtI.S9.C8.3 Foreign Emoluments Clause Generally. back