Voters could get the right to overrule federal laws and mandates under the terms of an initiative filed late Thursday.
The Arizona Constitution already says the federal Constitution "is the supreme law of the land.'' This measure, if approved in November, would add language saying that federal document may not be violated by any government -- including the federal government.
More to the point, it would allow Arizonans "to reject any federal action that they determine violates the United States Constitution." That could occur through a vote of the state House and Senate with consent of the governor.
But that also could occur through a popular vote on a ballot measure, effectively allowing voters to decide which federal laws they feel infringe on Arizona's rights as a sovereign state.
Organizer Jack Biltis said he turned in more than 320,000 signatures. The next step will be for the Secretary of State to determine, after screening the petitions, if there are at least 259,213 valid names on the forms to allow the measure to go on the ballot.
Biltis, who said he has spent more than $1.2 million on the campaign so far, said it is time for Arizona to step up and reclaim its constitutional rights.
The "flagship'' example, he said, is the federal Affordable Care Act. He said there is nothing in the U.S. Constitution which gives the federal government the power to enact a national health care plan.
Biltis acknowledged that the U.S. Supreme Court, faced with exactly that question, ruled to the contrary.
"I believe the Supreme Court completely got it wrong,'' he said. In fact, Biltis argued, the ability of the nation's high court to interpret -- and invalidate -- federal laws itself is not part of the U.S. Constitution but was claimed by the court in 1803.
"The only portion of government that has unlimited powers are the state governments and the people themselves,'' he said. Biltis said that, under his measure, Arizona could simply refuse to participate, though it would do so at risk of losing federal dollars.
But Biltis' objections to federal authority are not partisan. He is equally upset with the Patriot Act, passed during the administration of George W. Bush, which gives the federal government broad powers to detain people without trial.
And then there are other issues that might not seem so weighty but that Biltis finds to be constitutionally unacceptable, like the federal law, signed during the Bush administration, which phases out the manufacture and sale of incandescent light bulbs to save energy. The most popular replacement to date has been compact fluorescent bulbs which have their own environmental issues if broken.
"Besides the insanity of it, if you have a federal government that can choose to ban a light bulb that has existed for 100 years, that served us pretty well, what can't they do?'' he asked.
Nor is Biltis troubled by the idea of individual states interpreting federal law -- and nullifying those they believe are unconstitutional. He said that is precisely what happened in pre-Civil War days when some Northern states refused to honor the federal Fugitive Slave Act which required escaped slaves to be returned to their owners.
"Those things are the wrong side of history,'' he said.
Biltis acknowledged his measure would allow Arizona to ignore other federal mandates, such as integration of schools. But he said there are various safeguards for that, ranging from public sentiment and pressure to the ability of 34 other states to amend the U.S. Constitution to give the federal government the explicit power to overrule what Arizonans might have done.
There actually will be two sovereignty measures on the ballot.
A separate proposal crafted by Rep. Chester Crandell, R-Heber, would have Arizona declare its "sovereign and exclusive authority and jurisdiction over the air, water, public lands, minerals, wildlife and other natural resources within its boundaries.'' Exempt would be tribal and military reservations.