Americans United for Separation of Church and State

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Church State Issues

Medicaid ruling: The ends don't justify the means

Apr 28, 2014

Arizona Republic

The reason governments have "constitutions" is almost always to limit the things government can do and the power government have.

When elected officials and government bureaucrats don't like these "handcuffs" that limit their power they always attempt to justify the illegal acts of ignoring the constitution as having "good intentions"

Sadly many times the courts agree with them and ignore the Constitution.

While this case is about Medicaid, it could have been about mixing government and religion.


Medicaid ruling: The ends don't justify the means

Christina Sandefur, AZ I See It 7:38 a.m. MST April 28, 2014

Last week, the Arizona Court of Appeals resuscitated Proposition 108, a critical voter-enacted constitutional protection that requires a two-thirds legislative supermajority to levy new taxes and fees.

A trial court had previously ruled that 36 legislators who voted against a massive new tax to fund the state's Medicaid expansion lacked the standing to enforce this provision in court, even though the tax became law with the approval of only a simple majority of legislators. The unanimous decision restored the lawsuit and, more importantly, the integrity of the legislative process.

Yet once again, The Arizona Republic's editorial board insists on placing its own policy preferences above constitutional constraints, arguing that politicians should ignore legal limits on their power when they deem doing so to be politically expedient ("Rulings solved nothing on Medicaid, pot DUIs," Opinions, Wednesday). The board's ends-justify-the-means approach leads it to conclude that because Medicaid expansion "makes sense," a simple legislative majority can trump a constitutionally required supermajority.

But this raises the question, "Makes sense to whom?"

Dramatically transforming Arizona's Medicaid program, putting the state on the hook for billions of dollars and surrendering the Legislature's taxing power to an unaccountable administrator didn't make sense to the dozens of lawmakers who voted against the bill.

Indeed, it was an ardent determination to "make it more difficult to raise taxes" and "restrain growth in state government" that prompted voters to empower dissenting minorities to block taxes.

Would the board be so dismissive of constitutional protections if the tax in question had instead been levied on newspaper subscriptions?

It is precisely because our policy preferences differ and our political leaders change that we must respect the rule of law.

Enabling lawmakers to skirt the rules when enacting desirable legislation also empowers them to do the same when a law is detrimental.

As Chief Justice John Marshall asked more than 200 years ago, "To what purpose are powers limited, and to what purpose is that limitation committed to writing, if these limits may, at any time, be passed by those intended to be restrained?"

The board would do well to consider this question before advocating that courts give legislators carte blanche to disregard their constitutional constraints.

The editorial board laments that giving legislators their day in court will mean more confusion and uncertainty for Arizona's new Medicaid program. But signing this massive tax into law despite its failure to garner a constitutionally required supermajority is what created "unnecessary doubts." Fortunately for the people of Arizona, one thing is crystal clear: Our state operates under the rule of law, not by the whims of politicians.

Christina Sandefur is a staff attorney at the Goldwater Institute.