Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

The Constitutional Meaning Of Financial Terms

Tomer Stein (Tennessee; Google Scholar) & Shelby Ponton (Stetson), The Constitutional Meaning of Financial Terms, 2025 Utah L. Rev. ___:

Utah law reviewThe Constitution has sixty-three financial terms. These financial terms include, for instance, “compensation,” “expenditures,” “debt,” “coin,” “revenue,” “securities,” and “bankruptcies”—all of which determine the elementary building blocks of our governmental makeup. When the Supreme Court interprets the meaning of these financial terms, it does so in isolation and without a consistent framework. This Article proposes a unified framework for the interpretation of financial terms in the Constitution, comprising of two fundamental canons of construction.

First, this Article proposes that all financial terms in the Constitution should be interpreted with fiscal and monetary neutrality—interpreting financial terms in a way that does not favor one kind of economic policy over another. The Supreme Court is not the right institution to manage the economy, as it lacks the expertise to do so. Moreover, fiscal and monetary policy are governmental objects that were intended to be governed by, and are best left to, the political process. The Supreme Court should thus interpret all financial terms in the Constitution in a manner that will leave fiscal and monetary policy open for implementation by either the legislative and executive branches, or the various states, as appropriate. Second, this Article proposes that if the Supreme Court is able to avoid deciding the meaning of a constitutional financial term, and, instead, decide the relevant case on another basis (such as either federal or state law, or procedural grounds), it should do so. In other words, the Supreme Court should invoke the constitutional avoidance doctrine when facing a constitutional financial term.

Together, fiscal and monetary neutrality, coupled with the constitutional avoidance doctrine, provides a consistent framework for the Supreme Court’s treatment of financial terms that serves both the intended meaning of these terms and their continued utility in today’s modern economy.

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