Arizona Votes "Yes" on State Sovereignty Amendment

Arizona’s Prop 122 – allowing the state to refuse funding for federal regulations – passed on Tuesday by the slimmest of margins, garnering 51.4 percent of the vote. The broadly defined amendment now gives the state authority to essentially nullify federal regulations and mandates by declining to dedicate state resources for enforcement.

Proponents argue the amendment will bolster checks and balances and reinforce separation of powers. The Tenth Amendment Center, a national supporter of Prop 122, posits that it falls under the anti-commandeering doctrine - under which the federal government cannot coerce the states to follow mandates – that has been upheld by the Supreme Court four times, most notably in ruling that state and local officers could not be made to administer part of the background checks mandated by the Brady Bill.

Justice Thomas wrote, “The Court today properly holds that the Brady Act violates the Tenth Amendment in that it compels state law enforcement officers to ‘administer or enforce a federal regulatory program’.”

Some Arizona lawmakers are skeptical of the amendment’s effects. State House Minority Leader Chad Campbell wrote in The Arizona Republic,

Because no matter what some people believe, states do not have the authority to tell the federal government what to do. It's called the supremacy clause of the United States Constitution. Attempting to alter the Arizona Constitution will not change it. If this proposition passes, there will be no substantive changes in how we interact with the federal government. The only thing that will happen, and this is a guarantee, is that we'll end up wasting taxpayer dollars on a court case we are certain to lose.

Although some dispute Campbell’s assertion that court cases would end in certain losses, one thing does seem certain – any practical usage of Arizona’s newfound sovereignty must be validated in the courts. Beyond that, uncertainties abound: will the judicial system validate Arizona’s right to nullify federal laws? How expensive will legal challenges be?

Lastly, the symbolic message of the amendment is not lost on opponents or supporters.

Again, Minority Leader Campbell, “it will erode our already tenuous relationship with the feds and jeopardize desperately needed funding for transportation, disaster relief and other critical programs.”

Michael Boldin of the Tenth Amendment Center counters,

While not something that will happen in the immediate future, this kind of domino effect is what’s needed to spell doom for the destructive notion of endless federal supremacy. Because the feds rely on state compliance far more than they would like you to realize, these type of measures are incredibly important. They have the potential to create a chain reaction that could shake up the status quo more than anything we’ve seen in generations.

The practical applications of Prop 122 are yet to be seen, but Arizona lawmakers now have the authority to try to nullify federal mandates.