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Wednesday, July 17, 2024 | Back issues
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Law Prof Calls Debt Ceiling Unconstitutional

WASHINGTON (CN) - The bitter political fight over the federal debt ceiling is based on an unconstitutional concept - the ceiling itself - which "does exactly what the Constitution explicitly prohibits; it questions the 'validity of the public debt of the United States,'" a Catholic University law professor claims in Federal Court.

Victor K. Williams sued the U.S. Department of the Treasury and Secretary Jacob J. Lew, asking the court to do away with debt ceiling legislation, which has taken the country to the threshold of financial catastrophe repeatedly in recent years.

"The debt ceiling statute remains an unconstitutional exercise of legislative authority," Williams says of the 2013 Default Prevention Act, a product of President Barack Obama and the Republican-controlled House of Representative's 10-month-long stalemate.

The complaint points to the "McConnell Disapproval Rule" as the law's "complex procedural method, crafted to implement the temporary suspension."

Williams adds: "The procedure is designed to cloak the debt ceiling's operations, and Congress' continued fiscal recklessness. The debt ceiling's unconstitutionality, however, cannot be hidden."

Williams claims the debt ceiling violates a section of the 14th Amendment that prohibits questioning the "validity of the public debt of the United States."

"Recent legislation authorizing a fifteen-week suspension of the debt ceiling makes manifest the statute's unconstitutionality," the lawsuit states. "Indeed, the Section 1002(a) Short Title of the suspension legislation ... evidences that the debt ceiling's normal operations constantly threaten fiscal default. The President was required by the legislation to certify that the suspension was needed to prevent the actual default, and he did so. The statute was thus suspended through Feb. 7, 2014. If and when Congress enacts additional temporal suspensions, or debt limit increases, the statute will continue to question the validity of the public debt. Neither another temporary suspension nor a debt ceiling lift removes the continuing threat."

Williams, a member of the DC Bar who filed the complaint pro se, claims he has standing to sue because he "purchased and holds a variety of Treasury-issued bonds, notes, and bills," and the law threatens him with "certainly impending harm."

The debt ceiling acts as a mechanism to curtail the amount of federal debt issued by the Treasury. If the limit is breached, the Treasury would risk defaulting on the country's debt, which could prove disastrous to the U.S. economy, and the world's.

"On its face, the debt ceiling statute violates the Fourteenth Amendment's Public Debt Clause and casts doubt on the creditworthiness of the United States to honor plaintiff's debt. In actual operation, the statute also violates the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause by its arbitrary harm against plaintiff - while also threatening unknown collateral domestic and global economic disaster," the complaint states.

Williams cites a Treasury statement released during the 2013 standoff between Obama and the House, that the effects of debt-ceiling brinksmanship would freeze credit markets, tank the value of the dollar and cause U.S. interest rates to skyrocket.

Williams says sovereign immunity in this case must be waived because he "ultimately seeks only such specific relief sufficient to prevent individual defendant Lew from invoking or enforcing the unconstitutional debt ceiling statute."

Williams wants the court to declare debt ceiling laws unconstitutional and void.

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