Somewhere in the deep recesses of the West Wing a gaggle of lawyers for the Obama administration are pouring over the obscure language of Section 4 of the 14th Amendment as perhaps one very odd way out of the debt ceiling crisis.
The Civil War era amendment states in part “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.”
Now anyone reading Section 4 would likely come to the conclusion that this language has little if anything to do with the current debt ceiling imbroglio, and they would be right – perhaps.
We are getting down to crunch time here in the USA and the gridlock in Congress does not seem to be abating. The President must do something to avoid default and one option is to invoke Section 4 of the 14th Amendment. It is clearly a stretch, although former President Bill Clinton has already advised Obama to invoke the amendment to at least temporarily avoid another financial meltdown.
Obama and his lawyers are not so sure about whether Section 4 of the 14th Amendment has legal standing in this issue, but there is disagreement in the White House. The argument for using the 14th Amendment is that Obama invokes it, raises the debt ceiling, is sued by the Republicans and the issue goes to the Supreme Court for review.
Here is where it gets interesting. The Court often stays away from what are termed issues that are termed “political” in nature. Advocates of the 14th say that the Court would stay out of this mess, even though there is a constitutional challenge. Of course this is pure speculation, but there is precedent for the Court staying out of the political fray, and this is certainly a time of political fray.
Perhaps this constitutional sideshow will remain on the sidelines and a deal will be struck at the 11th hour. But Obama does have one option that could be used in desperation. It might be instructive to reiterate that the 14th Amendment came out of the Civil War, and this debt ceiling fight certainly is a civil war.