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Wednesday, May 29, 2024 | Back issues
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Professor’s Federal Debt Ceiling Battle Collapses

WASHINGTON (CN) - A Catholic University law professor upset over the U.S. debt ceiling does not have a basis to sue the government, a federal judge ruled.

Victor Williams sued the U.S. Department of the Treasury and Secretary Jacob Lew last year, asking the court to eradicate debt-ceiling legislation, which has taken the country to the brink of financial disaster in recent years.

The complaint alleged that Williams faced impending arm, as the owner of "a variety of Treasury-issued bonds, notes, and bills."

Such holdings failed Tuesday, however, to sway U.S. District Judge Richard Leon as to Williams' legal standing.

"Plaintiff does not allege any current injury, but claims standing on the basis of anticipated future harm only," Leon wrote. "The allegations of harm rest on an assumption that the government will fail to pay on plaintiff's 'modest sum' of public debt if the debt ceiling is not raised."

In his complaint, Williams called the 2013 Default Prevention Act "an unconstitutional exercise of legislative authority."

The statute was the product of the 10-month-long stalemate between President Barack Obama and the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

Williams, a member of the D.C. bar, said the debt ceiling violates a section of the 14th Amendment that prohibits questioning the validity of the country's public debt.

"Recent legislation authorizing a fifteen-week suspension of the debt ceiling makes manifest the statute's unconstitutionality," the lawsuit alleged. "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 state will continue the question the validity of the public debt. Neither another temporary suspension nor a debt ceiling lift removes the continuing threat."

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 that of the world.

Judge Leon nevertheless found that Williams raised nothing more "than a general grievance." Pure speculation of injury doesn't meet standing requirements, he said.

"Plaintiff's standing allegations here are, to say the least, speculative," the opinion states. "They rest on the hypothetical premise that the United States government will, at some unknown future date, fail to pay on plaintiff's Treasury securities because of the debt limit statute, despite the fact that the United States government has never defaulted on its debt obligations as a result a failure by Congress to increase the debt limit."

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