The 14th Amendment and the Debt

The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void. – Clause Four of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America

Sorry, Obama fans. This amendment does not empower the president to raise the debt limit unilaterally. Maybe it would if there was a different makeup of the Supreme Court. Given the current state of the court, it would rule 5-4 against the president – or anyone – raising the debt limit unilaterally.

It’s one thing for Congress to act childishly, but quite another for someone in government to act unconstitutionally. I’d hope that people would stop trying to encourage a constitutional crisis over the debt situation.

1 thought on “The 14th Amendment and the Debt

  1. Kort Jackson

    Zzzptm,

    Long time no hear. I happen to be following this, so here’s my take.

    The 14th Amendment, it all it’s glorious text, does not state that the “debt ceiling” may be increased unilaterally, but of course it would not: The statutory debt limit concept came much later than the 14th Amendment. That’s not the point, but just a nice intro.

    To be completely descriptive, you are correct under a strict to the letter interpretation of the Constitution. But there is a major sticking point: Standing must be established as well as harm. It will be difficult enough to prove standing, but harm is nigh impossible. One COULD say they were infringed on their Constitutional Rights, but the issue is what would harm worse: the minute infringement of constitutional rights, or the default of the United States of America, the shredding of ANY economic recovery, the collapse of the financial house on the government and ALL of it’s citizens, which sounds like somebody just converted into confetti the full faith and credit of the USA.

    In all likelihood, if the hypothetical case does make it to SCOTUS, the case will likely be tossed due to lack of standing, the case being a political question, or due to a lack of demonstrative harm. Also, it’s possible that the debt crisis is resolved by the time it makes it to the SCOTUS, thus making the case pretty much moot.

    Now I could be completely wrong, as this is hypothetical at this stage (and no, I hope Obama doesn’t attempt this). But fortunately for all of us, we are NOT quite there yet. And if we are all really fortunate in this, we won’t even get to that point where hypothetical meets reality.

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