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Amici Brief Explains Emoluments, Scientifically, for Trump

By George Khoury, Esq. on January 30, 2019 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

In the litigation over President Trump's alleged violations of the emoluments clause of the United States Constitution, a recently filed Amici Curiae brief by two scholars of law and linguistics goes into painstaking detail over what the word means.

The brief utilizes a scientific method of studying the meaning of language known as corpus linguistics. Basically, this method takes the actual usage of a word, in context, to understand what the word means. And in the case against Trump arising out of the emoluments clause, one of the president's primary arguments hinges upon the very meaning of the word.

So What Does It Mean?

According to the researchers, the term emolument is defined simply as "benefit, advantage or profit." In the case against the president, his attorneys argue that the term has a more narrow definition meaning "profit arising from an office or employ." Essentially, the president is arguing that because the profits he earns from foreign officials staying at his hotels and patronizing his other businesses do not qualify as emoluments because they do not stem from his work as president.

Unfortunately for the president, the researchers found that the term does not have that narrow definition. The study took thousands of usages of the word, ran those through a computer program that analyzed the usages, then reported the findings, which seem to speak for themselves. In short, they found that the term has the broader meaning of simply "benefit, advantage or profit," but that the term is frequently modified to indicate more narrow meanings.

One of the more notable modifications uncovered involved the word "official." The researchers noted that, most often, when the term emolument refers to "benefit, advantage or profit" gained through official capacity or public office, it would be used as a phrase: "official emoluments."

What Does This Mean for Trump?

While gaining clarity on the meaning of the word may help advance the case against the president, there are still quite a few hurdles left before the case even makes it to trial.

However, if the appellate court accepts the broad definition of the term, then the likelihood for success for the plaintiffs will substantially improve as the president has not divested or even put his business holdings into a blind trust. If the case is successful, this could very well lay the groundwork for impeachment, though there's no guarantee that would be successful.

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