GETTYSBURG, Pa. — President Donald Trump announced he was considering Gettysburg National Military Park as the location to accept the Republican presidential nomination on Aug. 27. However the site's status as federal property could pose legal challenges to holding a Republican National Convention event there.
Pres. Trump wouldn't be the first president to speak in the national park, the site of the Battle of Gettysburg July 1 to 3, 1863. President Abraham Lincoln delivered his "Gettysburg Address" on Nov. 19, 1863. President Woodrow Wilson spoke on July 4, 1913 at a Civil War veteran reunion. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt dedicated the Eternal Peace Light Memorial on July 3, 1938.
On Tuesday, Pres. Trump tweeted he would deliver his renomination acceptance speech either at the White House or in Gettysburg.
However a law ban federal employees from helping with campaign events. Gettysburg is national park, so holding a campaign event here could run afoul of that law, analysts said.
The Hatch Act of 1939 doesn't apply to the president himself or the vice president, but rather to all other federal employees, including those at Gettysburg National Military Park.
"The people who would be setting up this event and taking part in it would have to be campaign people rather than people who are carrying out governmental jobs," said Michael Dimino, a professor at Widener University Commonwealth Law School specializing in constitutional law.
Pres. Trump was originally scheduled to accept his renomination in Charlotte, North Carolina.
In June the speech and many of the convention's events were moved to Jacksonville, Florida, after North Carolina's governor wouldn't guarantee use of an arena at full capacity due to COVID-19 concerns.
In July the Jacksonville events were cancelled due to a surge in COVID-19 cases in Florida.
Any place the president accepts the nomination on Aug. 27 will face scrutiny, analysts said, especially if there are legal questions.
"In this partisan environment there certainly is going to be an interest in trying to paint political opponents not only as wrong on policy but also as potentially skirting the edges of ethics," Dimino said.
The president could hold the event at Gettysburg, park officials said, if campaign organizers applied for and received a permit for "First Amendment activities." Preparing for permitted events is a normal part of park employees' duties.
"This does not prevent an employee from performing their official duties as it may relate to the permitted event," said Jason Martz, public affairs officer for the park. "All employees involved will be reviewed with our solicitor's office to confirm their compliance."
The park has not received any communication from the campaign or application for a permit, Martz said.