Federalism: “When We Destroy It, We Place Liberty at Peril”

The Utah Commission on Federalism’s Course on the Principles of Federalism

To the Framers of the Constitution, the structure of our governing system was a matter of life or death, liberty or constraint, property or subjugation.

They knew that “as government expands, liberty contracts,” that government expands to the limit that it is checked and that left unchecked, government expands limitlessly. To counteract this natural tendency, they grounded the Constitution on an indispensable structure of limits, divisions, and independent checks on governing power.

State legislators—as our first official act of office—swear an oath to defend the structural protections of liberty embodied in the U.S. Constitution.

U.S. Supreme Court Justices Kennedy, Scalia, Thomas and Alito recently warned (NFIB v. Sebelius, 2012, dissenting opinion) that preserving the structure of our governing system is still a matter of life, liberty and property:

Structural protections–notably, the restraints imposed by federalism and separation of power … tend to be undervalued or even forgotten by our citizens. It should be the responsibility of the Court to teach otherwise, to remind our people that the Framers considered structural protections of freedom the most important ones, for which reason they alone were embodied in the original Constitution and not left to later amendment. The fragmentation of power produced by the structure of our Government is central to liberty, and when we destroy it, we place liberty at peril.

Rather than rely only on “the Court to … remind our people that the … structural protections of freedom [are] the most important ones,” the Utah Legislature’s Commission on Federalism, in cooperation with Utah Valley University (UVU), assembled the nation’s leading scholars to teach the principles of federalism in the schools, to the people and to local, state and national leaders.

In 2014, the Utah State Legislature passed H.B. 120, which permits members of the Utah State Bar to receive up to two hours of continuing legal education (CLE) credit for free from the UVU Center for Constitutional Studies. Attorneys in other states may be eligible to apply to receive CLE credit. The initial one-hour course is taught in series of six videos.

As we undertake the critical work of restoring the structural protections of liberty at the very heart of our unprecedented governing system, Module 1 begins by clearly defining federalism.

Take the course. Share it with colleagues, friends and organizations. Send me your feedback. Then, join us as we restore structural balance to the greatest governing system ever devised because, as George Washington admonished in his Farewell Address, “to preserve [these structural checks] must be as necessary as to institute them.”

Representative Ken Ivory is the Utah House Chair of the Utah Commission on Federalism and past Chair of ALEC’s Federalism Task Force. Links to the modules referenced above will be available on the ALEC website soon.

In Depth: Federalism

Genuine accountability to hardworking taxpayers results when state and local legislators work with members of the community to determine a plan of action that is right for each individual state, city or town. Real solutions to America’s challenges can be found in the states – America’s fifty laboratories of democracy…

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