Either/Or: Professors Zephyr Rain Teachout and Akhil Reed Amar – Contradictions and Suggested Reconciliation
110 Pages Posted: 11 Dec 2011 Last revised: 15 Feb 2012
Date Written: January 1, 2012
The Foreign Emoluments Clause is a constitutional backwater. So much so, that there is no substantial discussion of this clause in any federal adjudication (although the Office of Legal Counsel has regularly opined on it). Backwaters, however, have an unappreciated and significant virtue. They allow us to discuss our precommitments, assumptions, and methodological positions free from the distractions of the great political issues of the day – issues which naturally tend to divide us in ways which may be unconnected to the merits. Simply put, backwaters allow us to freely debate the merits of contestable worldviews. That is what I propose to do here.
Both Professors Zephyr Rain Teachout and Akhil Reed Amar have discussed the Foreign Emoluments Clause in their recent publications. Amar is an originalist, perhaps the most influential American originalist of the late twentieth century; Teachout, although, perhaps, not an originalist per se, regularly writes in an originalist mode – parsing drafting history, text, structure, precedent, and history – in search of a public (or, perhaps, an intended) meaning contemporaneous with ratification. Both Teachout and Amar might be fairly characterized as left-of-center, but both are also clearly in the academic mainstream. Both Teachout and Amar’s publications are actively cited, if not widely acclaimed, and my own view is that citations and public acclaim vastly underestimate the influence of these two scholars. (However, as do all mere humans, both Teachout and Amar stray into some truly puzzling errors from time to time.) Indeed, there are now several publications that cite both Teachout and Amar.
Interestingly, each takes a position in regard to the Foreign Emoluments Clause which is in clear conflict with the position taken by the other. The stakes here involve more than the contours, scope, purpose, and original public meaning of the Foreign Emoluments Clause (which, in itself, is not an entirely minor thing).
If Amar is correct, then Teachout must be wrong, and it follows that Teachout’s views in regard to congressional power to limit election-related speech and spending are (if not flatly wrong) something that must be carefully reconsidered in light of Amar’s contrary position.
On the other hand, if Teachout is correct, then Amar must be wrong, and it follows that Amar’s views in regard to constitutional structure, intratextualism, and the meaning of coordinate language in other constitutional clauses are (if not plainly wrong) something that must be closely reexamined in light of Teachout’s contrary teachings. This paper will explore that conflict, and, then, I will attempt to reconcile the two positions.
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation