Judicial interpretations of the Arizona Constitution have often been inconsistent and conflicting. Instead of developing a sound and authentically independent reading of the Arizona Constitution, the Arizona judiciary frequently relies on federal constitutional analyses to resolve matters of state constitutional interpretation. As a result, differences in the state constitution are often read out of the constitutional text to achieve uniformity with federal constitutional trends.
Article 2 of the Arizona Constitution states that "frequent recurrence to fundamental principles is essential to the security of individual rights and the perpetuity of free government." This fundamental principles clause protects against the erosion of citizens' rights by reminding the government of the primacy of rights secured under the Arizona Constitution. The clause provides the judiciary with a firm basis for developing an authentic, original reading of the Arizona Constitution. Most important, the U.S. system of federalism depends on rigorous enforcement of independent state constitutions.
States function as laboratories of democracy in our federalist nation and state constitutions offer additional protections for individual rights. Developing an independent method of state constitutional interpretation is consistent with the principles of federalism and warranted by the very text of the fundamental principles clause.
Arizona courts must choose which set of rules to adopt in interpreting the state constitution. Under the present system, the judiciary often embraces interpretative rules that reinforce and solidify government power. The fundamental principles clause, however, establishes that the judiciary must interpret the state constitution with a strong reading in favor of property and individual rights, an absolute separation of powers, and a healthy respect for federalism. Doing so prevents erosion of fundamental constitutional rights.
This study demonstrates that the fundamental principles clause should lead to the adoption of four leading rules, or canons, of constitutional interpretation. The clause acts as a guiding star for judicial interpretation, favoring a return to the actual text of the constitution with supplementary, objective guideposts to aid in its interpretation. Doing so affords clarity to an otherwise obscure area of legal thought and ensures more constitutionally accurate and uniform interpretations. A proper understanding of fundamental principles will afford citizens the liberties that are the hallmark of a free nation.