What is the 14th Amendment in Simple Terms

FILE – A first printing of the United States Constitution is displayed at Sotheby’s auction house during a press preview on Nov. 5, 2021, in New York. The rare copy has sold Thursday, Nov. 18, for a record $43.2 million at Sotheby’s to an anonymous buyer who outbid a group of crypocurrency investors.InternationalIndiaAfricaThe deadline for raising the current US public debt ceiling draws closer with each passing day while lawmakers in the country still cannot overcome their differences in order to stave off the prospects of default.While the US Treasury Department already warned that the federal government may start defaulting on its debt at the beginning of next month, some scholars and media outlets pointed at a particular amendment to the US Constitution that may supposedly allow the US president to resolve this crisis in one fell swoop.So what exactly is this Amendment XIV to the US Constitution and why has it attracted so much attention as of late?

When Was the Fourteenth Amendment Adopted?

The 14th Amendment to the US Constitution was adopted in 1868, three years after the end of the American Civil War, and was directly related to the aftermath of that internecine conflict as it effectively extended citizenship rights to previously enslaved people.

What is the Fourteenth Amendment?

The 14th Amendment to the US Constitution comprises of five sections, four of which, however important they are in the context of the fabric of the American legislation and statehood, are less important to the matter of public debt.Specifically, Section One deals with the matter of citizenship, proclaiming that all people born or naturalized in the US “are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”“No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws,” states Section One.Section Two deals with the matter of the US states’ representation in Congress, stipulating that, if a state were to violate its citizens’ right to vote, that state’s representation might be reduced.Section Three states that a person who “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” against the US after taking an oath as a US officer or a Congress member may not be elected as member of congress or as president, “or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States.”And Section Five effectively provides the US congress with the power to enforce the provisions of the amendment.

What is Section Four?

Section Four is what essentially makes the Fourteenth Amendment the focus of debates in the context of the US public debt ceiling.Section Four states in no uncertain terms that “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.”EconomyGOP Leaders Reveal No ‘New Movement’ After Debt Ceiling Talks But Vow US Won’t Default9 May, 23:02 GMTThis wording led some scholars, such as University of Toledo College of Law Professor Rebecca Zietlow, to suggest that the Fourteenth Amendment’s Section Four may offer a “constitutionally tenable” way to resolve the debt ceiling crisis.

"Under Section Four, it is unconstitutional for Congress to default on debt that the United States has already incurred, and arguably unconstitutional for Congress to impose any ceiling on US debt," Zietlow wrote in an article published earlier this month.

This issue, however, remains a matter of debate in the United States: while the prospects of using the Fourteenth Amendment to deal with the debt ceiling had been mulled before, the US government has so far refrained from using that option.

"I can say that this administration does not believe that the 14th Amendment gives the President the power to ignore the debt ceiling – period," Jay Carney, White House Press Secretary during the Obama administration, stated during a press briefing in June 2012.

Last week, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen also warned that resorting to the use of the 14th Amendment in the context of the debt ceiling may lead to a “constitutional crisis.””There is no way to protect our financial system in our economy, other than Congress doing its job and raising the debt ceiling and enabling us to pay our bills and we should not get to the point where we need to consider whether the president can go on issuing debt,” she told media.At the same time, recent media reports suggest that the current US president, Joe Biden, said that he is considering using the 14th Amendment to deal with the debt ceiling issue.


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