In the 19th century, French diplomat Alexis de Tocqueville and English philosopher John Stuart Mill both theorized in their political writings on the consequential perils of tyranny emanating not just from an oppressive government but from society as well.
Succinctly, both Tocqueville and Mill believed that social tyranny engendered through the exercise of tyranny of the majority — a scenario in which the interests of the majority injuriously supplant those in the minority due to the inherent flaw in the principle of majority rule — had the capacity to be far more pernicious than political tyranny because social tyranny had the ability to suffuse itself much more deeply into public life.
I bring up this philosophical doctrine considering the recent Arizona Supreme Court ruling that left intact a lower court decision that denied challengers the right to contest a 2017 law that requires all ballot initiatives to be in “strict compliance” with every election law before it can be placed on the ballot.
This new law overruled a prior court ruling that said that “substantial compliance” is sufficient for ballot initiatives to survive legal challenges.
In other words, any future measures not in “strict compliance” with current election laws could be challenged, stopped, or thrown out for minor errors regarding language, paperwork and even technical faults like page margins and type size.
All in all, this new “strict compliance” law passed by Republicans in order to preserve the integrity of the initiative process is, in all honesty, rather senseless. This is because interest and advocacy groups will simply just expend more time and resources to scrutinize their petitions to a higher degree in order to ensure they meet the new standard.
The root of the problem when it comes to all ballot initiative systems however — which is plausibly what Gov. Doug Ducey and the Legislature were attempting to curtail — is the fact that they have the capacity to produce social tyranny through the exercise of tyranny of the majority.
The epitome of this situation occurred in 2016, when nearly 60 percent of Arizonans voted in favor of Proposition 206, which increased the minimum wage from $8.05 to $12 by 2020. In this case, the injured minority were small local Arizona business owners who were forced to close because of mandated wage increases. Some of these local Tucson businesses included notable restaurants such as Zivaz Mexican Bistro, Shlomo & Vito’s and Neo Malaysian Kitchen & Sushi, which all explicitly stated that the minimum wage increase played a significant role in their decisions to close their doors.
And for those who argue that unemployment is still going down despite minimum wage increases, realize that the companies who are doing most of the hiring are big corporations who have economies of scale and can easily absorb these added costs. Small local businesses cannot.
This is just one situation of many where Arizonan interest and advocacy groups have decided to create ballot initiatives in order to promote the majority’s common goals and interests at the expense of the minority’s.
To suggest that the opinion of the majority is far superior than the opinion of the minority is to suggest that the majority contains the necessary wisdom to make these momentous decisions. Often, however, it does not contain the necessary wisdom, it does not consider negative externalities, and it only considers its own self-interests.
This is precisely why all promulgated laws should always emanate from our democratically elected lawmakers, and why Arizona should not be one of over 20 states in the U.S. to have a ballot initiative system.