Rodearmel v. Clinton: Linguistics PhDs Wade In

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Seven professors of linguistics have filed an Amici Curiae in support of the U.S. Government’s motion to dismiss FSO David Rodearmel’s complaint.

The new filing provides a quick summary of the case:

The Ineligibility Clause—also known as the Emoluments Clause—prohibits the appointment of Senators or Representatives to “any civil Office under the Authority of the United States, which shall have been created, or the Emoluments whereof shall have been encreased during [the time for which they were elected.]” Plaintiff seeks a declaration that this provision renders Hillary Clinton ineligible to serve as Secretary of State because Cabinet secretaries (along with other federal employees) received cost-of-living increases in their salaries during Ms. Clinton’s most recent Senate term. The increases in the Secretary of State’s salary were wiped out by statute before Ms. Clinton’s appointment, so that the Secretary’s salary was returned to what it had been when Sen. Clinton’s term began. But the plaintiff insists that Ms. Clinton nevertheless remained disqualified from being Secretary of State and that her appointment to that position violated the Constitution. The plaintiff contends that the reduction in the Secretary’s salary is constitutionally irrelevant because it does not change the “historical fact” that the previous increases had occurred.

The brief filed says that “t
he plaintiff’s interpretation represents only one of several possible readings. The clause can also be reasonably read in a way that permits a Senator or Representative’s eligibility for appointment to be restored by reducing the salary of the position in question to what it was when the Senator or Representative’s term began.”

It also says: “The ambiguity in the Ineligibility Clause relates to the phrase shall have been encreased. Plaintiff’s argument assumes that a position’s salary has been increased during a Senator or Representative’s term if at any point in that term the salary went up, even if it later went back down by the same amount. This interpretation corresponds to what linguists would refer to as an EXPERIENTIAL reading. But the language can also be understood to have a RESULTATIVE reading. On the latter interpretation, the salary can be said to “have been increased” only if it went up and stayed up through the time of the appointment. This reading of have been encreased is comparable to the interpretation of I have caught a cold as meaning that the speaker had gotten sick and was still sick.”

The friend of the court filing based its argument on two things —

A. The phrase shall have been encreased during such time can be interpreted “resultatively”i.e., as meaning that the state of increase continued in existence through the time of Sec. Clinton’s appointment.

“The phrase shall have been encreased is in what is conventionally called the FUTURE PERFECT TENSE. This is a compound tense, which means that it has two components: FUTURE and PERFECT.”

B. Encreased can also be understood as an adjective, and under such a reading it can be interpreted resultatively.

“As we have noted, increased can be interpreted as an adjective as well as a verb. Under such an interpretation, it is subject to much the same ambiguity as the verbal interpretation. An adjectival reading is therefore consistent with the conclusion that Secretary Clinton’s appointment was valid.”

The brief provides examples using texts from Rodearmel’s filing, Judicial Watch’s website, even from James Madison’s notes of the debates at the Constitutional Convention. It also carries the following appendices:

  • Appendix A: The English Resultative Perfect and its Relationship to the Experiential Perfect and the Simple Past Tense
  • Appendix B: Examples of the resultative perfect
  • Appendix C: Examples of adjectival use (may be ambiguous between adjectival use and use as resultative perfect)

Now Judicial Watch has a “Plaintiff’s Opposition/Response to Linguists’ Amicus Curiae – September 8, 2009″ posted online but it is a dead link right now. It would be interesting to see how many linguists of its own it can come up with to counter these linguists’ argument.

And here I thought this would be settled by President’s Day. Perhaps we should not be surprise if this court case would run on until 2012?

Related Item:
Rodearmel v. Clinton: Linguists Amici Curiae | PDF

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Rodearmel v. Clinton, et al: DOJ Files Motion to Dismiss
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