US Supreme Court

The United States Supreme Court won’t be responsible for destroying the world economy. While I theoretically could be wrong, I’m somewhat confident that this is something the current nine justices are simply unwilling to do.

This is important to keep in mind when talking about the possible legality of unilateral ways to avoid the debt limit, be it with a platinum coin, invoking the 14th Amendment, or moral obligation coupons.

Ultimately it is the Supreme Court that decides if any of these options are constitutional or not. But the Supreme Court doesn’t provide advisory opinions. The only way the Supreme Court could end up ruling on one of these actions is if President Obama actually uses one to avoid the looming crisis, then someone with standing sued him, and the Court decided to take the case.

This, however, would put the Court in a politically untenable position. If the Court actually rules that the administration’s unilateral solution to the debt limit is unconstitutional, it would likely cause unbelievable damage to the world economy. It would probably force an immediate default event, void all bonds that had been issued for the past month and/or possibly result in clawing back of money already paid. It would be a practical, legal and economic nightmare situation.

I simply find it impossible to believe that five Supreme Court justices are prepared to be seen as solely responsible for such a disaster. It could significantly undermine the popular, moral and legal credibility of the institution. It could trigger a true constitutional crisis.

It seems the most likely way the Court would address the issue is by determining that no one has standing to bring the case. That would allow them to keep their hands clean because even accepting the case would probably cause some economic panic.

Since the Court would probably never dare force the government into default, all these possible solutions are in the most Machiavellian sense “constitutional” to the extent they would never be declared unconstitutional while it still mattered. While many may not feel comfortable playing Calvinball with the Constitution, it is the level to which our government has already devolved in recent years.

Photo by envios under Creative Commons license