February 14, 2022

By Christina Sandefur

Today is Arizona Statehood Day. To celebrate Arizona’s 110th 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, Arizona was one of the first states to adopt Goldwater’s Right to Try law, which 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 Food and Drug Administration-approved. This groundbreaking legislation, which has since become federal law, is saving lives around the nation. And it’s laying the groundwork for Right to Try for Individualized Treatments, a new reform that extends the right to try to personalized medicine and is currently being considered in the Arizona Legislature.

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. And while the Fourth Amendment protects Americans from “unreasonable searches and seizures,” Arizona has extended that protection to prevent law enforcement from stealing people’s property without even accusing them of a crime (yes, this really happens).

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!

And of course, states can pioneer policies enabling people to live freer, happier lives. For example, the Grand Canyon State is the birthplace of education savings accounts (ESAs), which empower parents to customize their child’s education experience. Replacing one-size-fits-all government education models with educational freedom, Arizona has given kids access to learning opportunities that fit their own unique needs and set them up for success. And in just 10 years, Arizona’s initial program for only 100 students has blossomed into a nationwide movement serving thousands of children.

As Arizona celebrates its 110th birthday, it also celebrates its 110th year of independence from federal overreach, and decades of protections for personal freedom. Today, we can all celebrate our Framers’ wisdom in designing a government that provides double security for our rights.

Christina Sandefur is the Executive Vice President of the Goldwater Institute.

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