Last week, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) warned that a “constitutional crisis” would erupt if U.S. President Donald Trump fires special counsel Robert Mueller. Trump has not said that he will fire Mueller, but he has made clear his displeasure with Mueller’s investigation; Trump’s allies have been attacking Mueller’s integrity for weeks; and Trump’s earlier firing of FBI Director James Comey indicates a willingness to take such an extreme step.
But how extreme a step is it? Would a constitutional crisis really occur, and if it did, why would it matter? The answers to those questions are not as obvious as most commentators, and some policymakers, seem to think.
“Constitutional crisis,” like “Russian collusion,” is not a technical legal term with an agreed meaning. What’s clear is that the temptation to define a constitutional crisis as any case in which the meaning of the Constitution is disputed deserves to be avoided. Virtually every clause of the Constitution is disputed, but crises are rare because Americans have shown they accept that ultimately the meaning will be settled by major government institutions.
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