State constitutions not to be overlooked on Constitution Day
By Nick Dranias
On Constitution Day, it's all too easy to forget that the U.S. Constitution is not the only game in town. There are 50 others to be remembered. Despite our nation's limited government roots, nearly all state constitutions do a better job securing freedoms than the federal constitution.
A report to be released today by the Goldwater Institute, 50 Bright Stars, found that 48 out of 50 states offer a stronger guarantee of limited government under their state constitutions than the federal government under the U.S. Constitution. Constitutions like Alabama's boldly declare, "the sole object and only legitimate end of government is to protect the citizen in the enjoyment of life, liberty, and property, and when the government assumes other functions it is usurpation and oppression." Many explicitly restrict abusive regulation, prohibit monopolies, require balanced budgets, limit taxation and ban corporate bailouts.
No doubt the relative strength of state constitutional law arises, in part, from the fact that the federal government was never meant to have the vast powers it now claims. Until the federal genie is put back in its bottle, states must take the lead and enforce the promise of liberty. State constitutions are well-positioned to be the first line of defense in defending individual freedom and fiscal responsibility, for this Constitution Day and the next.
Nick Dranias holds the Goldwater Institute Clarence J. and Katherine P. Duncan chair for constitutional government and is the director of the Institute's Dorothy D. and Joseph A. Moller Center for Constitutional Government.
50 Bright Stars: An Assessment of Each State’s Constitutional Commitment to Limited Government
Submitted by goldwater on September 16, 2009
Goldwater Institute Policy Report
September 17, 2009
In an era of burgeoning federal government power, state constitutions are full of untapped potential; many provide stronger protection of individual freedoms than does the federal constitution. But realizing that potential requires recognizing its existence and assessing which state constitutions offer the best opportunities for securing the principles of limited government. To that end, this report ranks each state in the United States according to its constitutional commitment to the principles of limited government from a classical liberal perspective.
Using the U.S. Constitution and federal court system as a baseline, this report assesses each state’s constitutional jurisprudence for its commitment to limited government. This assessment reveals that every state in the union has a stronger textual and precedential commitment to individual liberty and fiscal responsibility under their state constitutions than does the federal government. Strong constitutions, however, are a necessary but not sufficient condition for securing limited government. Accordingly, the report also ranks each state’s constitutional commitment to freedom with a supplemental assessment of each state’s judicial and political culture.
Based on a combined assessment of each state’s jurisprudential and judicial environments, the states that are most committed to securing limited government under their constitutions are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio, Tennessee, Utah and Wisconsin. Further, even taking into consideration the reputed higher quality of the federal judiciary, 48 of the 50 states offer a better environment for securing limited government under their constitutions in state court than can be found in federal court under the U.S. Constitution alone. Only Massachusetts and West Virginia fall below the federal baseline. Taking into consideration the findings of a recent Mercatus Center study of economic freedom among the 50 states, which serves as a proxy for the freedom friendliness of each state’s political culture, this report reveals that principles of limited government are most secure under the constitutions of Arizona, Alabama, Idaho and Tennessee.
This report can help guide individuals and businesses to states where their liberty and property are likely most secure under state law. It also will help scholars, philanthropists, think tanks, and public interest law firms focus resources in states where the return on investment is likely to be greatest. However, this does not mean low ranking states should be written off. Instead, in states where an adverse political culture and decades of faithless judicial interpretation have weakened textually strong constitutions such as Washington, Georgia, Florida, and Missouri, citizens should focus resources on advocating the classical liberal vision of their state constitutions by supporting courageous members of the judiciary who are willing to enforce that vision.