PHOENIX – From light bulbs to cheeseburgers, the federal government is more involved in the details of American life than ever before – and far more than the country’s Founders ever envisioned.
“The Constitution was designed to guard our freedom by dividing power not only between the three branches of the federal government – Congress, the president, and the courts – but also between the federal government and states,” said Nick Dranias, the Goldwater Institute’s director of constitutional studies. “But the federal government has been taking control of decisions that once belonged exclusively to the states or to the people in their private lives.”
The Goldwater Institute has developed 10 innovative ideas for reinstating the constitutional roles of state and federal governments in a new, comprehensive guidebook, “Federalism-Do-It-Yourself: 10 Ways for States to Check and Balance Washington.”
In the study, Mr. Dranias highlights dozens of policies enacted by the federal government that intrude on state laws. The study also points out that, with 20 percent of the money spent by state and local governments coming from the federal government, state and local budget priorities are effectively determined in Washington, D.C.
Examples of federal overreach into state affairs abound. Officials in Pima County, Ariz., secured $16 million in federal stimulus money by proposing to adopt “obesity zoning” that would limit the construction of new fast-food restaurants. Lured by the promise of federal grants, Wisconsin towns and counties want to take away the property rights of rural families by blocking their land from being used for anything other than farming.
But more than local control is at stake, Mr. Dranias said. Individual liberty is also under siege when Congress can mandate that nearly every adult must buy a government-approved health insurance policy by 2014.
“States have lost their status as equal partners in governing, which has opened the door to a nearly unchecked national government that our Founders knew would be dangerous to a free society,” Mr. Dranias said. “The federal government is poised to dictate our most important choices in life, including what we choose to eat, how we use our property, and whether we get health care, unless the states begin using the legal and constitutional tools available to them.”
This report proposes 10 tools that state legislatures, county governments, and city councils can adopt to rebuff further federal intrusion, including:
• Adopt state laws to preserve and expand liberty and defend those laws in court against federal encroachment. Ten states are protecting health care freedom for their residents by enacting the Health Care Freedom Act and defending it in court.
• Forbid state and local officials from assisting the federal government in carrying out mandates when doing so threatens individual liberty. Attempts by the Department of Homeland Security to implement the REAL ID Act were thwarted because 14 states adopted laws that ordered their motor vehicle departments or similar agencies not to cooperate.
• Invoke existing coordination rights under many federal laws that require federal agencies to coordinate with state and local governments when imposing new mandates and regulations that conflict with state laws and local ordinances. Uintah County in Utah blocked the federal government from releasing diseased wild horses into public ranch lands by exercising its right to demand coordination between federal and local regulations.
• Call one or more Amendments Conventions to draft amendments to the U.S. Constitution that would limit the size, scope, and intrusiveness of the federal government. North Dakota already has taken this step with a proposal to limit federal debt, and 29 other states are considering this strategy as well.
Click here for a one-page explanation of the 10 tools to rebalance power between states and the federal government. The Goldwater Institute also has prepared model legislation that uses these tools to limit federal debt, protect health care freedom, and preserve private property rights. This model legislation can be viewed here.
About the author: Nick Dranias holds the Clarence J. and Katherine P. Duncan Chair for Constitutional Government and is director of the Joseph and Dorothy Donnelly Moller Center for Constitutional Government at the Goldwater Institute.
The Goldwater Institute is an independent government watchdog that develops innovative, principled solutions to issues facing the states and whose work is made possible by the generosity of its supporters.