The 2018 Seegers Lecture: Emoluments and President Trump

51 Pages Posted: 15 Jul 2019 Last revised: 28 Sep 2019

See all articles by John Mikhail

John Mikhail

Georgetown University Law Center

Date Written: July 12, 2019


The topic of my 2018 Seegers Lecture at Valparaiso University Law School was the original meaning of “emolument” and its implications for President Trump. In this expanded version of my remarks, I begin by discussing the Constitution’s Emoluments Clauses and describing the three emoluments lawsuits against the president currently making their way through the federal courts. I then highlight one of the main points of contention in these lawsuits, which is the constitutional meaning of the term “emolument.” Next, I describe some of the efforts my colleagues and I have made to investigate the historical meaning of this term and explain how our research may impact these cases. Finally, I discuss the landmark decision by a federal district court in July 2018, which held that “emolument” is a broad term referring to “any ‘profit,’ ‘gain,’ or ‘advantage,’” including profits from ordinary market transactions. A second federal judge recently denied the president’s motion to dismiss on similar grounds, setting the stage for what seems likely to be a pivotal issue on appeal or in any impeachment proceedings against the president. For convenience, this essay also gathers in one place every use of "emolument" in The Federalist and Blackstone's Commentaries and every definition of "emolument" in English language and legal dictionaries from 1523-1806.

Keywords: emolument, profit, gain, advantage, corruption, conflict of interest, foreign influence, Trump

Suggested Citation

Mikhail, John, The 2018 Seegers Lecture: Emoluments and President Trump (July 12, 2019). Valparaiso University Law Review, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN:

John Mikhail (Contact Author)

Georgetown University Law Center ( email )

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