A Lesson from the “Shutdown”

We have entered week two of the federal government’s “shutdown” and, amazingly, Americans are still hanging in there.  This is a fact that has chagrined federal politicians to no end.  In an effort to convince us all that we really need our omnipotent overlords, federal agents continue to execute their directive which, as one federal employee has unhappily admitted, is “to make life as difficult as possible.”

So far their actions have included closing national parks, barricading monuments, holding elderly vacationers hostage in Yellowstone and, horror of horrors, shutting down Michelle Obama’s Twitter account.  If I didn’t enjoy the silence I would ask someone to tell FLOTUS that Twitter is free.

Sure, these are annoying maneuvers, but they’re fairly innocuous.  They seem more like an overgrown temper tantrum than the triumphant return of the Dark Ages.  On one level it’s actually been pretty entertaining to watch the federal government work so hard at trying to make us miss them.  On another level it’s a little sad, kind of like a jilted teenager trying to make his ex-girlfriend jealous by going to prom with his sister.

Either way, it’s a little hard to miss them when 80% of federal bureaucrats are still on the job, the NSA is still spying on us and our earnings are still being stolen from our paychecks.

Details

Seth Barrett Tillman on the Debt Ceiling

Regarding this post, Seth Barrett Tillman writes:

There is a new view that the President has authority to sell newly issued government debt, absent congressional authority (i.e., Congress’s raising the debt ceiling).
Professor Epps, Dorf, and Buchanan et al. may be right or they be wrong about the constitutional point. (Disclosure: My own view is that they are wrong.) But it does not matter if they are right or wrong. The Constitution is not the relevant body of law.

The relevant body of law is fiduciary duty law. No trustee, director, or officer of a primary dealer (the organisations which actually buy newly issued federal debt) would touch debt issued by the President absent either (1) congressional consent, or (2) Supreme Court approval of the practice. Any such purchase by a primary dealer would be clear violation of its fiduciary duty of care to its stockholders. Full stop. Ex hypothesi, Congress will not have consented: that’s why the President’s action would be unilateral. Likewise, judicial approval could only happen (long) after the Treasury sells the debt. To sell the debt, the Government would have to agree to an astronomical premium, and that would leave the government much worse off than not selling debt at all.

Epps, Dorf, Buchanan and other make an interesting theoretical point (like some which I have made!), but wholly impractical point (ditto). The President cannot sell debt on the credit of the United States absent congressional authority. It is a matter of private law, not public/constitutional law.

Very well put.  And it reminds me of a further point regarding Section 4 that I intended to make yesterday.  Far from supporting a unilateral presidential power to issue debt, Section 4 points the opposite direction.  It says (emphasis added):

Details

Before You Rejoice

Before you rejoice that the government has seized an alleged terrorist in Libya who was indicted for planning the notorious 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Africa, before you join the House of Representatives in a standing ovation for the Capitol Hill Police who killed a woman whose car struck a White House fence and who then drove away at a high speed, and before you commend the New York Police Department for quickly getting to the bottom of an alleged assault by a motorcycle gang that tormented a young family on a city street, please give some thought to the rule of law.

Last weekend, a team of Navy SEALs kidnapped a Libyan, Abu Anas al-Libi, off of a public street in Tripoli. The Navy men did not have a warrant for his arrest, did not have the permission of the local authorities or the Libyan government to carry out this kidnapping, and were unlawfully present bearing arms in public in Libya. Many of al-Libi’s alleged accomplices already had been arrested, prosecuted and convicted in the U.S. The U.S. could have sought his extradition, as it did with some of them, had President Obama not bombed the American-friendly government of Col. Moammar Gadhafi out of existence, without a congressional declaration of war.

Obama apologists have praised this maneuver as a bloodless way to obtain justice without using drones to kill. (How low we have sunk when Obama can be praised for not executing someone with a drone.) Secretary of State John Kerry, acknowledging that al-Libi is innocent until proved guilty, has claimed that the rule of law was followed here because he will be brought to a civilian U.S. court for trial. Former George W. Bush administration Attorney General Michael Mukasey claimed that because the embassy bombings constituted an act of war, the kidnapping of al-Libi was a lawful wartime assault, and he should be tried before a military tribunal.

Details