March 21, 2019

Arizona Supreme Court Justice Clint Bolick sits on the Grand Canyon State’s highest court, but in his previous life, he was a litigator for liberty. He co-founded the Institute for Justice, a leading libertarian public-interest law firm, and he headed the Goldwater Institute’s Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation as the Institute’s Vice President for Litigation.

Bolick sat down with Reason’s Nick Gillespie to talk about his career and his approach to the law. Among the topics of conversation was federalism—and why government power should be constrained not just at the federal level, but also at the local level. In Bolick’s view, local bureaucrats frequently pose just as big a threat to individual rights as the national government: “If you read The Federalist Papers, [James] Madison was very concerned that the smaller the government, the easier it is for special-interest groups, or factions as he called them then, to gain control and to execute what he referred to as their ‘schemes of oppression.’”

He continued, “We focus on the national government all the time, and we often ignore the threats in our own backyard. Who has more control over your day-to-day lives: your city council, or the president of the United States?” It’s pretty clear to see examples of the outsized power of local government: Take, for instance, the city court system throughout most of Arizona. More than half of all cases in the state are handled by city courts, but city councils have “nearly unchecked power” to hire and fire these judges. That political pressure can end up skewing judicial decisions. (You can read Goldwater Institute national investigative journalist Mark Flatten’s full series of reports of the city court system here.)

Check out the full interview with Bolick in the video above—including more about his time as a litigator, whether he thinks Arizona is becoming freer, and why he has a scorpion tattooed on his “typing finger.”

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