This answer indicates that the US constitution requires that The President's salary may not increase or decrease throughout their term.

To me, this is ambiguous as inflation constantly diminishes the value of the compensation package.

As such, is it possible that a challenge of this article could result in the compensation being linked to inflation or is this settled by case law?

  • 1
    Are you asking about the possibility of the nominal amount go up with inflation? Sep 3, 2022 at 0:36

2 Answers 2


Yes, but it could only be adjusted at the end of each term

The term salary is unambiguous - it is the amount you are paid for the work that you do. The Constitution prohibits this amount from being changed during a President's term of office so it can only be adjusted at the transition from one term to the next. Congress could pass a law that this is an automatic adjustment in line with inflation (or anything else).

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    Good answer but I think the OPis asking about an interpretation that constant salary might be constant in real dollars vs nominal dollars. Sep 3, 2022 at 2:26
  • @GeorgeWhite pretty sure the US Reserve only used real dollars
    – Dale M
    Sep 3, 2022 at 2:42
  • If that were so, it would contradict your answer, as "real" dollars (in the real vs. nominal distinction) are inflation-adjusted dollars. Your answer assumes that the president is only paid in nominal dollars and it's their nominal value that is controlling. Nominal means that it is the face value of the dollar. "Real" is used to compare amounts at different times. For example, the real value of the presidential salary in 2020 was lower than the real value in 2017. But the presidential salary was $400,000 in nominal value in both years.
    – mdfst13
    Sep 4, 2022 at 6:12

The Constitution says that

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.

If the compensation, as enacted in law, is stated in a dollar amount as it is under 3 USC 102, then POTUS gets $400,000 per year, no more and no less.

Congress can write laws that refer to formulas, rather than a specific integer amount. Let's assume that they do this and pass a law where (during the period when that law holds i.e. the president's current term) the compensation is stated as the result of a computation of variable values (in particular, an inflation index).

Then somebody sues, and the Supreme Court has to decide whether the constitutional clause means that POTUS gets the same number of dollars throughout his term, or does it mean that Congress cannot change the law of computation during the term. On both sides, it's easy to declare that the meaning is clear. The question of original meaning would figure largely in that discussion. SCOTUS would have to discern what the intend of The Framers was – was it a belief that there is an intrinsic good behind limiting a president's compensation to a fixed number of dollars; or, is it intended to require that a change in the law which implements the presidential compensation, and the approval therein by POTUS, must itself be subject to a form of approval by the people (voting out the rascal who approved his own raise).

The issue has not previously come before the Supreme Court, so we don't have any precedent. Historical research into the origin of this clause would be important in determining what the original intention was. The most likely motivation for such a clause would be as a check on the boss setting his own compensation without checking that power, hence a formula-based compensation is reasonably related to a credible intent behind the clause. We can explain why The Framers did not directly address this interpretation, since it only comes up when there is a massive discrepancy between nominal dollars and real money as fixed units of gold, which at the time would have made no sense.

  • I agree. At the time the constitution was written in 1787, it was probably not even possible to calculate a yearly inflation value. While the general concept of it was likely known, it was only observable when the effect was significant, e.g. during the thirty-years-war. But that war was far away and had ended more than a century before.
    – PMF
    Sep 3, 2022 at 6:23
  • Wikipedia, citing the OED, says that the very word "inflation" only first appeared in print (in this sense) in 1838. Sep 3, 2022 at 14:23
  • In order to believe that the Constitution intended inflation-adjusted "real dollars", you'd have to accept that the President's salary scheme has been unconstitutional for the past 234 years; by staying the same in nominal dollars, then unless the inflation rate was precisely zero, it must have increased or decreased in real dollars during each president's term. You'd have to explain why nobody objected to this scheme in all that time, including the Framers themselves who were alive and active in politics for its first few decades. Sep 3, 2022 at 14:27

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