Good things come in small packages. Take our Constitution. At just 4,543 words, it’s the shortest in the world. Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to visit the National Archives, and as I stood before our Founding Document, I realized that our government, country, and entire way of life hinge on just four pieces of parchment.
It occurred to me that the size of the document reflects the Framers’ goal of a limited federal government. They only delegated the country’s “great and aggregate” interests to the national level and left the “local and particular” concerns “to the State legislatures,” as James Madison wrote in Federalist Paper Number 10. In fact, Article I grants a mere 18 legislative powers to Congress—the only branch of government given the power to make laws. The right to regulate the environment is not included. In his essay, “The Powers Delegated to the Federal Government Are Few and Defined: The Doctrine of Enumerated Powers,” Roger Pilon states, “Where the federal government has no power, states or the people themselves have a right.” Thus, when the federal government oversteps its boundaries, it is the prerogative of the states to object. In my home state of Arizona, we’re doing just that.
When unelected bureaucrats of the Environmental Protection Agency hatched a plan in 2015 to regulate every state’s carbon emissions through the Clean Power Plan, Arizona was quick to recognize a federal power grab. For years, the Grand Canyon State has been a leader in renewable energy and pollution reduction without Washington’s “assistance.” But this was not enough for the EPA. They demanded we abandon a substantial portion of our energy mix, insisted we drastically overhaul our power plants, and threatened unknown penalties for violating their decree. “[The] EPA is attempting an unconstitutional trifecta: usurping the prerogatives of the States, Congress, and the Federal Courts—all at once,” stated Laurence Tribe, who is, ironically, a liberal legal icon who served in President Obama’s Justice Department. “Burning the Constitution should not become part of our national energy policy.”
It’s no wonder my state joined 26 others in suing the EPA. Four days before Justice Scalia’s death, the Supreme Court granted a stay, blocking the Clean Power Plan from taking effect—one of the Court’s most severe rebukes of federal overreach since it checked President Harry Truman’s seizure of the steel industry. The ruling is a victory for Arizona and state sovereignty across America, but the case is not closed.
As states argue before the United States Court of Appeals and await a final ruling, Americans would be wise to keep the words of 19th century political thinker Alexis de Tocqueville in mind: “A constitution, republican in its head and ultra-monarchical in all its other parts, has always appeared to me to be a short-lived monster.” With every power grab, constitutional evisceration, and nanny-state regulation, Tocqueville’s warning comes closer to becoming reality. It is crucial that we fight the administrative state’s tentacles and hold fast to the Founders’ original intent for our republic. As Thomas Jefferson said, “That government is best which governs least.”