by Christina Sandefur
Today is Arizona Statehood Day. To celebrate Arizona’s 106th birthday, we can reflect on the state’s unyielding history of independence from federal control. Joining the union wasn’t easy for the Grand Canyon State—Congress rejected Arizona’s early attempts at statehood, and President William Howard Taft refused to approve the new state until Arizonans tailored their constitution to his liking. But Arizonans were eager to govern on their own terms. The very same year that Arizona was finally admitted as a state, voters changed their constitution back to its original form, much to the President’s chagrin.
Autonomy from overreaching federal power is exactly what the Framers of the federal Constitution envisioned for the states. James Madison, known as the “Father of the Constitution,” wrote that federalism provides “a double security…to the rights of the people.” In other words, the federal Constitution is a floor for protecting freedom, not a ceiling. States serve as shields for individual rights that the federal government fails to protect. Ever since it became America’s 48th state, Arizona has led the way on that front. For example, 38 states have adopted Right to Try, a law born in Arizona that protects a terminally ill patient’s right to try investigational medicines that have passed basic safety testing and are being used in clinical trials but aren’t yet fully FDA-approved.
States can also defend rights explicitly listed in the federal Constitution. Arizona’s Constitution guarantees that “every person may freely speak, write, and publish on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of that right.” State courts have interpreted this provision to protect free speech more robustly than federal courts do under the First Amendment.
Moreover, states can safeguard individual liberty by limiting the scope of government. Many state constitutions, including Arizona’s, prohibit “special laws,” or laws that do not apply to all citizens equally. Practically, this means legislatures in those states cannot single out a particular person or group for special favors. If the federal government were similarly constrained, “pork barrel” spending would be almost nonexistent. Imagine the relief to taxpayers and the reduction in governmental corruption!
As Arizona celebrates its 106th birthday, it also celebrates its 106th year of independence from federal overreach, and we can all celebrate our Framers’ wisdom in designing a government that provides double security for our rights.
Christina Sandefur is Executive Vice President of the Goldwater Institute.