Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Q Day 1: 14th/Impeachment?

Ben Levin asks:
If the Obama administratione attempts to nullify the debt ceiling by citing the 14th amendment, do you think House Republicans will begin impeachment proceedings?
I'm not going to get into the question of whether he should or not here, but I will take the opportunity to link to two important posts from Jack Balkin that I haven't had the chance to link to yet. In the first, he sets out what he believes are the president's obligations and restrictions under the 14th amendment; short version is that he believes the president can violate the debt limit law only by necessity, and even then only with (retroactive) Congressional authorization. In the second, he pounds home the point that what Congress is doing right now is, in his view, unconstitutional. The bottom line here is that the president will soon be in a position, unless Congress acts, in which he will have no choice but to violate something.

So the present question is about what Congress will do if he does invoke the 14th and borrow money despite the debt limit (rather than defaulting on payments due, or refusing to spend money duly appropriated by law).

Certainly, there will be some agitation for impeachment. Here's some -- but note that this American Spectator piece calls for impeachment over several things (such as the administration's Constitutionally unremarkable actions on DOMA). Here's a Republican Member of the House talking about it.

Would they pull the trigger? A year ago, I would have said -- definitely. However, the truth is that Republicans, contrary to my expectations, have so far been pretty good about avoiding any gratuitous impeachment talk. Given that impeachment would be an empty, symbolic gesture (since there would be no chance of conviction in the Senate)...I'm sort of guessing that we would see one or more resolutions introduced, and we would certainly see some confrontational hearings, but in the end I'd say the chances of an actual impeachment would be, oh, 20% or so. Certainly not impossible, but not real likely.

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