Trillion Dollar Coin: Posts on Legality and Constitutionality

9:58 am in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

Enthusiasm for using Platinum Coin Seigniorage (PCS) to produce a Trillion Dollar Coin, or coins totaling a few trillion dollars continues to increase. The twitterverse went mad two nights ago around #mintthecoin, a hashtag originated by MMT’s Stephanie Kelton, which by yesterday morning had become the 5th most highly trending topic on twitter.

Meanwhile, the blogosphere continued to produce more points of view on the Platinum Coin. The points of view divide into those that are very negative; either claiming that 1) using Platinum Coins would be illegal or unconstitutional, or 2) using them would be just ridiculous and financially irresponsible, and so should be avoided; and others that favor using PCS 3) either in a limited way to avoid the debt ceiling crisis, or 4) in a much more robust way, that would change the procedures underlying Federal spending, so that fiscal policies advocating austerity no longer have a political foundation in a visible and rising national debt that austerity advocates can constantly talk about fixing through “shared sacrifice.” In this post I’ll review new posts on legality and constitutionality.

Kevin Drum on legality

Kevin Drum of Mother Jones filed his second recent post claiming that the trillion dollar coin is illegal and will be subject to challenge in Court on grounds of intent. He repeats exactly the same reasoning he used in his first post. I’ve already critiqued that reasoning saying that the Courts generally don’t try to interpret laws based on theories about Congressional intent. The Justices aren’t collective psychologists who are expert at divining the intent of the Congress. They are expert, however, at interpreting what the text of a law says, and so that is what they stick to almost all the time. A challenge to PCS based on intent isn’t something any Court is likely to take up. Drum then adds:

There is, apparently, a widespread belief that courts will uphold a literal, hypertechnical reading of legislative language regardless of its obvious intent, but I’m quite certain this isn’t true. Courts are expected to rule based on the most sensible interpretation of a law, not its most tortured possible construction. I don’t think there’s even a remote chance that any court in the country would uphold a Treasury reading of this law that used it as a pretense for minting a $1 trillion coin.

I am, obviously, not a lawyer. So if someone with actual legal training in the appropriate area of the law says I’m wrong, then I guess I’m wrong.

Well,, the language of 31USC5112(k) doesn’t look very tortured or “hypertechnical” either to myself or many others who have looked at this including lawyers Jack Balkin and Carlos Mucha (beowulf); but seems very plain and unambiguous. Drum is entitled to his opinion, but as he keeps saying, he’s no lawyer, and his judgment about what the Courts will do based on the problem of intent isn’t very plausible.

What if a trillion dollar coin is used to avoid the debt ceiling, and this saves the United States from defaulting on its debts, and the world financial system from collapsing? Is it then likely that the Supreme Court will entertain any challenges to the plain language of the law based on an interpretation of intent, which would then place the Treasury in the position of having to return that trillion dollars in Fed credits, and again look default in the face? Can you see John Roberts ever voting for this? Please Kevin, give us a break!

John Carney on Unconstitutionality

John Carney believes that Platinum Coin Seigniorage (PCS) and the Trillion Dollar Coin are unconstitutional. The core of his argument is:

There are limits to how far Congress can stretch its powers under the necessary and proper clause. Of particular interest to us here is the non-delegation doctrine, which holds that the Constitution’s requirement that laws be passed by both houses of Congress and signed into law by the government constrains the ability of Congress to delegate its lawmaking authority to other bodies. . . .

The Supreme Court . . . . went out of its way to affirm the basic principle of non-delegation . . .

Article I, Section 1, of the Constitution vests “[a]ll legislative Powers herein granted… in a Congress of the United States.” This text permits no delegation of those powers, and so we repeatedly have said that when Congress confers decision making authority upon agencies Congress must “lay down by legislative act an intelligible principle to which the person or body authorized to [act] is directed to conform.”

So the question that is relevant for us here is whether or not the law that authorizes the creation of platinum coins by the U.S. Treasury lays down an “intelligible principle” to which the Treasury is directed to conform.

He then quotes the law authorizing PCS:

“The Secretary may mint and issue bullion and proof platinum coins in accordance with such specifications, designs, varieties, quantities, denominations, and inscriptions as the Secretary, in the Secretary’s discretion, may prescribe from time to time.”

You see the problem here, right? There’s no intelligible principle whatsoever. The law gives the Secretary complete discretion over everything having to do with the minting of platinum coins. This is very likely an unconstitutional delegation of the legislative power to coin money and regulate the value thereof.

Carney goes on to talk about issues of standing recognizing that standing may be very difficult to get from the Courts and that therefore it may not be possible to challenge the law. But he still thinks that the above argument is a decisive one and that the coin seigniorage law is unconstitutional. You see the problems here, right?
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