The grand visor of Oregon?
June 19, 2006 7:17 AM   Subscribe

How much autonomy do States in the United states in structuring their government?

Obviously U.S. States are limited in what they can do in total by the US constitution, but how restricted are they in terms of how their government is structured. Suppose a state were too legally amending their constitution based on the provisions of the constitution. Could they, for example remove the entire legislature and replace it with online voting for all residents (or perhaps those who take a test?) Or could they institute a dictator, or even a hereditary monarchy? What if they got rid have the state government and instituted anarchy, or devolving all state power to the counties, etc.

What if a state constitution couldn't be over turned on it's own terms, could the residents of a state force a referendum, if they wanted to replace it with something sensible (unlike the above ideas)
posted by Paris Hilton to Law & Government (15 answers total)
According to Wikipedia, the federal government must guarantee a republic form of government to the individual states.
posted by ajpresto at 8:03 AM on June 19, 2006

"The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government" U.S. Constitution: Article IV Section 4.

All U.S. states have a written constitution and a three-branch government modeled on the U.S. federal government. While the U.S. Constitution mandates that each state shall have a "republican form" of government, this particular structure is not mandatory.
posted by ND¢ at 8:05 AM on June 19, 2006

Article IV, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution guarantees "to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government," although the Supreme Court has stated that enforcement of this guarantee is left to Congress, not the courts. Minnesota v. Clover Leaf Creamery Co., 449 U.S. 456, 481 n.3 (1981). There go your monarchy and anarchy ideas.

Beyond that, states are limited in how they set qualifications for voting and public office by, among other things, the Fourteenth Amendment. Here's an interesting case dealing with mandatory judicial retirements and a federal statute. My gut reaction is that online voting would be okay in theory, but in practice would be challenged since ballot access would be dramatically narrowed. Tests for voting would violate the Voting Rights Act and are a no-go.

There is actually a fair amount of variation in state government structure within the three-branch framework. Consider, for example, Nebraska's unicameral legislature and New Hampshire's 400 member state house.
posted by amber_dale at 8:11 AM on June 19, 2006

The "republican form of government" clause is considered non-justiciabile by the federal courts under the "political question" doctrine. This basically means that despite the provision in the US Constitution, federal courts will generally not hear a challenge to a particular state's form of government.
posted by reverendX at 8:12 AM on June 19, 2006

Nothwithstanding the nonjusticiability of the republican form of government clause, if a state decided to institute a dictatorship or some kind of undemocratic government, any proclamations or acts that carry the force of law are reviewable in federal court if a Fourteenth Amendment due process or equal protection right exists (which incorporates most of the guarantees of the Bill of Rights). Further, it is fairly well-established that voting is a fundamental right, and any attempt to limit the franchise will be viewed with heightened scrutiny. Presumably this also applies to a situation where the franchise is emoved altogether.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 8:57 AM on June 19, 2006

That is one way to get rid of Gov. Kulongoski...

A new poll released June 15th by SurveyUSA shows that Governor Kulongoski’s approval rating has slipped to just 32%, worst among all Democrat Governors nationally.
posted by Leenie at 9:03 AM on June 19, 2006

The breadth of the Republican Form Clause hasn't really been tested...but for what it's worth, I believe Nebraska has instituted a unicameral legislature.
posted by Brian James at 9:47 AM on June 19, 2006

Grand visor of Oregon?

Is this some sort of giant sunshade? I don't get this title at all...
posted by jdroth at 10:02 AM on June 19, 2006

I think he means Grand Vizier
posted by Brian James at 10:26 AM on June 19, 2006

The easy answer is, as long as no state citizen felt their national constitutional rights were being denied, a state government could probably choose to be what ever the heck it wanted to be.

Since this is America, someone will always feel something is being denied, and hence, the above is an impossibility.
posted by Atreides at 10:39 AM on June 19, 2006

Here in California we do have a ballot measure system that basically allows statewide referendums, most recently used to oust our previous Governor, Gray Davis, in favor of Arnold Schwarzenegger. I had always heard that this system was fairly unique, but don't know if that's actually the case.
posted by sbrollins at 10:39 AM on June 19, 2006

Many of the example you give might fall outside the RFOG requirement that people have noted. But states still have a big sandbox to play in.

If you look at the 17th Amendment, which institutes direct election of senators, it says that in case of vacancy the "executive authority" of a state can appoint someone yadda yadda. It says "executive authority" instead of "governor" because states don't need to have governors. They might have an executive council. Or a prime minister, though I suppose it's arguable that RFOG implies separation of powers, which would rule out a parliamentary scheme.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:49 AM on June 19, 2006

For the most part the previous commenters are right:

The Constitution requires the United States to guarantee to each state a republican form of government; the Court has mistakenly believed this clause to be "non-justiciable" meaning that it is applied and enforced by Congress and the President rather than by the federal courts, at least in the main.

But that's not all.

Article 1, Section 2, of the Constitution assigns the state "executive authority" to fill vacancies, implying that states may have to have an executive authority (although it is not clear that this executive needs to be singular like the U.S. president). The same article also provides that:

"(T)he (voters for the house) in each state shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the state legislature. " Which seems to imply both that states are supposed to have legislatures, and that if there are multiple ones, only one of them can be the most numerous.

Article 2, Section 1, provides that the president is elected in such manner as the state legislature shall direct; again, presupposing its existence.

Article VI lays out an oath and requirements for state judges, implying that they ought to exist too.

Of course, it's not clear that the fact that these state officers are mentioned in the federal constitution means that a state is required to have them, but so far as I know basically no state has tried to push the envelope very far.

Notwithstanding what one poster said above, the amount of experimentation among state legislative and executive structure is basically pitiful. Nebraska has a single house, some states have a non-unitary executive branch, and that's about it. The referendum is pretty much the only major innovation and even that is not that different from state to state.

My understanding is that the judicial branches are more diverse, but I'm out of my league there.
posted by willbaude at 10:51 AM on June 19, 2006

If you want to check out a judicial branch that differs from the national standard, try Louisiana. Lawyers who go to school there pretty much practice only in-state since they use a civil law legal system that is often compared to the Napoleonic Code.
posted by mikeh at 11:47 AM on June 19, 2006

Notwithstanding what one poster said above, the amount of experimentation among state legislative and executive structure is basically pitiful.

In fairness, it's not obvious that basic structures should be tinkered with very much or very often.

Nebraska has a single house

And nonpartisan. Minnesota used to have a formally nonpartisan legislature, and other states have set up their election laws to create effectively nonpartisan legislatures (California from ~1900 to ~1950).
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:03 PM on June 19, 2006

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