“The whole basis of the paper, as I understood it, was that the varying terminology in the Constitution for ‘office’ and ‘officer’ all meant the same thing,” Professor Tillman recalled. “I set out on an intellectual project of saying, ‘Well, what if the Amars are wrong? What if the different “officer” phraseology in the Constitution had different meanings?’”
In short, Professor Tillman became a quibbler. As a law clerk in 2008, for example, he asserted in a paper that the winner of the 2008 presidential election, which pitted Senator Barack Obama against Senator John McCain, could keep his Senate seat while also serving as president.
Professor Tillman made various iterations of that argument, eventually catching the eye of William Baude, a University of Chicago law professor. In a short essay in 2016, Professor Baude appeared both bemused and intrigued.
“When you read an individual Tillman piece, you will notice exceedingly technical arguments combined with an almost urgent voice,” Professor Baude wrote. “You cannot help but think the author is brilliant, and you cannot help but wonder if the author is rather eccentric. As you read more of the pieces together, you will realize that he has a constitutional project, that he pursues it with great skill and knowledge, and that if he didn’t do it, nobody would.”
That did not mean Professor Baude agreed. Last summer, he co-wrote a widely cited article arguing on originalist and textualist grounds that Mr. Trump is ineligible to be president again. The essay repudiated Professor Tillman’s view, saying that phrases like “officer of the United States” must be read “sensibly, naturally and in context, without artifice” that would render it a “‘secret code’ loaded with hidden meanings.”