Santa Claus will keep his appointment with millions of Arizona children this Christmas after narrowly dodging a bureaucratic barrage.
The opening salvo came from the Department of Employment Services, which cited Santa for failing to pay a minimum wage - or any wage - to his helpers. "Working for 'the joy of it,' " the citation alleged, "is unlawful in Arizona."
Next up was the Department of Environmental Quality, which complained that the "reindeer propulsion" that powers Santa's sleigh is a severe pollutant that does not contain an appropriate fuel mix, nor does it appear on the Corporation Commission's approved list of alternative-energy sources. The department suggested mounting solar panels on the sleigh; but alas, they do not work at night.
Then, when Santa applied to Phoenix for the requisite use permit, it was denied when he wrote "none" next to the amount of subsidy he was requesting. The city's economic-development director explained, "We don't know how to process an application if it doesn't ask for taxpayer dollars."
Alerted to the possibility of illegal entry into the United States, the sheriff announced he would deploy a posse to stop the marauding man in red. "Clever old coot is not only coming in from the north, but by air," the sheriff observed. "Good thing we have helicopters."
The sheriff's response set off a jurisdictional feud with the governor. "Just think of all the revenue we'll bring in when Santa flies by our nifty speed cameras," she exclaimed. "Bye-bye, budget deficit!"
The final blow came when the Department of Professional Standards refused to certify Santa's lead reindeer, Rudolph, because his night-glow nose was not installed by a licensed electrician.
Faced with the unthinkable prospect of scores of disappointed children, Santa's lawyers swung into action, seeking an injunction against all Arizona bureaucrats from squelching Christmas.
It was a pitched battle. The state cited the anti-gift clause of the Arizona Constitution as authority for its actions, but the court ruled that it only prohibits the government from impersonating Santa Claus.
Citing the Constitution's preamble, which in the true spirit of Christmas expresses gratitude "to almighty God for our liberties," the court granted the injunction and Christmas was saved.
At a North Pole news conference, St. Nick commended the court for "filling the stockings of overzealous bureaucrats with proverbial coal." Arizonans are lucky, he added, to have a Constitution that protects the precious liberties of its citizens.
And that, along with Santa's impending arrival, gives us a lot for which to be grateful this holiday season.
Clint Bolick is director of the Goldwater Institute's Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation in Phoenix.