Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., is facing scrutiny after he claimed last week the “whole reason” for the 14th Amendment – best known for its extension of citizenship to former slaves and guaranteeing “equal protection of the laws” – was to assist with debt negotiations.
Fetterman’s comments came as he pushed for President Biden to use the 14th Amendment to avoid a default on the nation’s debt – a move that legal experts have repeatedly said would be unlikely to withstand judicial scrutiny.
“The entire GOP debt ceiling negotiation is a sad charade, and it’s exactly what’s wrong with Washington. We’re playing with fire and the livelihoods of millions just for the GOP to try and turn the screws on hungry Americans,” Fetterman wrote in a May 18 tweet. “This is the whole reason why the 14th Amendment exists, and we need to be prepared to use it. We cannot let these reckless Republicans hold the economy hostage.”
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Ratified in 1868, three years after the conclusion of the Civil War, the 14th Amendment, considered by both scholars and ordinary Americans to be one of the most consequential assurances of civil liberties in U.S. history, encoded citizenship and due process for former slaves and is notably remembered, lauded, discussed and debated today for its landmark “equal protection” clause.
“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside,” states Section 1 of the Amendment.
“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.”
Despite the main reasoning behind the 14th Amendment, the modification to the constitution also features a section on public debt.
CAN BIDEN USE 14TH AMENDMENT TO AVERT A DEBT LIMIT CRISIS? LEGAL EXPERTS WEIGH IN
The 14th Amendment reads, “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.”
Fetterman’s remarks drew immediate backlash, with multiple social media users taking aim at the junior senator for failing to recognize that the 14th Amendment has greater significance.
“How about this: we will take you seriously as a constitutional scholar when you stop dressing like an 11 year-old at a skate park,” former Trump advisor Stephen Miller wrote in a tweet.
“This is less surprising when you remember that the acting Senator/person making all the decisions in this office is a former Chief of Staff for Harry Reid,” former NRSC advisor Matt Whitlock wrote in a tweet, making an apparent reference to Adam Jentleson, Fetterman’s chief of staff.
“Not sure this potato can even count to 14 without the help of cue cards and a prompter, but we’re supposed to believe he’s suddenly an expert on the intricacies of federal bankruptcy laws,” Sean Davis, the CEO and co-founder of The Federalist wrote quipped in a tweet.
“Oh, I see someone woke up wanting to take Keith Olbermann’s title for Most Unserious Tweet [Constitution Category]. Except this man is an honest-to-darn U.S. Senator and not a former sports commentator. Far less funny and far more concerning,” Amy Swearer, a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation, said in a tweet.
“For the record, it’s not even the point of Section 4 of the 14th Amendment, much less the point of the entire 14th Amendment,” Swearer added in a follow-up tweet.
“Of course Democrats want to erase Republicans enacting the 14th Amendment after their ancestors lost the Civil War,” wrote former congressional candidate Matthew Foldi.
“‘The 14th Amendment was not ratified to grant citizenship to former slaves & freed blacks—and provide all citizens with equal protection under the law—but actually was ratified solely to give the President the power to spend money in violation of federal law’ is quite the take,” said Jonathan Ingram of the Foundation for Government Accountability.
The Fourteenth Amendment was the second of three Reconstruction Era-amendments adopted in rapid succession after the Civil War, as the United States rushed to encode the liberties secured at the horrific cost of human carnage during the conflict. The Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery. The Fifteenth Amendment secured the right to vote regardless of “race, color or previous condition of servitude” — though only for men at the time.
Despite Fetterman urging the president to use the amendment amid debt negotiations, experts who spoke with Fox News Digital earlier this month cast doubt on the viability of Biden invoking the 14th Amendment to the Constitution to raise the federal borrowing limit.
“The plain reading of Section Four is that it has absolutely nothing to do with the debt limit. Existing debts cannot be questioned; but raising the debt ceiling is for the purpose of creating new debts. Nothing in Section Four says Congress must create new debt to service older debt. A failure to raise the debt ceiling in no way questions the validity of existing debts,” Ilan Wurman, an associate professor of law at Arizona State University, told Fox.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told ABC News’ This Week that invoking the amendment – an idea the White House has distanced itself from – would cause a “constitutional crisis.”
Fox News’ Elizabeth Elkind and Kerry J. Byrne contributed to this article.
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