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.