On Constitution Day, it's all too easy to forget that the U.S. Constitution is not the only game in town. There are 50 others to be remembered. Despite our nation's limited government roots, nearly all state constitutions do a better job securing freedoms than the federal constitution.
A report to be released today by the Goldwater Institute, 50 Bright Stars, found that 48 out of 50 states offer a stronger guarantee of limited government under their state constitutions than the federal government under the U.S. Constitution. Constitutions like Alabama's boldly declare, "the sole object and only legitimate end of government is to protect the citizen in the enjoyment of life, liberty, and property, and when the government assumes other functions it is usurpation and oppression." Many explicitly restrict abusive regulation, prohibit monopolies, require balanced budgets, limit taxation and ban corporate bailouts.
No doubt the relative strength of state constitutional law arises, in part, from the fact that the federal government was never meant to have the vast powers it now claims. Until the federal genie is put back in its bottle, states must take the lead and enforce the promise of liberty. State constitutions are well-positioned to be the first line of defense in defending individual freedom and fiscal responsibility, for this Constitution Day and the next.
Nick Dranias holds the Goldwater Institute Clarence J. and Katherine P. Duncan chair for constitutional government and is the director of the Institute's Dorothy D. and Joseph A. Moller Center for Constitutional Government.