Americans have much to be proud of despite the prevailing narrative that partisan politics is destroying the country. Unfortunately, we often have to parse through streams of negative stories—and news coverage of the President’s tweeting habits or typos (like the infamous covfefe tweet)—to find the positive.
It’s important, however, to not let hard-fought victories for liberty and progress get lost in the news cycle. As Friedrich A. Hayek once said, “the guiding principle in any attempt to create a world of free men must be this: a policy of freedom for the individual is the only true progressive policy.”
To that end, here is a short list of victories during 2019, at the state and federal levels, you may have missed.
1. Idaho Repealed Its Entire Regulatory Code
During 2019, the Idaho state government, in effect, repealed its entire regulatory code and allowed for its current governor to determine which regulations to keep. This is important given that it allows the governor to ensure that outdated and unnecessarily burdensome regulations can be easily removed. (Are other states paying attention?)
2. A Big Win for Prison Reform
The Trump administration found bipartisan support in Congress to pass long-overdue criminal justice reform in the “First Step Act.” Pushed through with the help of Kim Kardashian (yep, really) and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, the law helped thousands of federal inmates, reduced federal mandatory minimum sentences including some retroactively, and made it easier for federal prisoners to accrue “good time” credits to earn early release.
3. Illinois and Michigan Said No to Marijuana Prohibition
Proponents of legalizing the use of cannabis made big strides in 2019. In June, the governor of Illinois, the sixth most populous state in the US, signed into law legislation that ended the prohibition on consumption. Months later, recreational sale of marijuana began in Michigan for the first time, where residents in 2018 voted to legalize the psychoactive drug. Perhaps just as importantly, President Trump has signaled the federal government will not interfere with state efforts to legalize cannabis.
4. Arizona Became the First State to Recognize Out-of-State Occupational Licenses
In April, Arizona became “the first state to recognize out-of-state occupational licenses.” This is crucial as some researchers, including Matthew Mitchell of the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, have shown that licensing can be a barrier to employment for lower-income Americans and licensing does little to “enhance either consumer safety or the quality of services.” The legislation could be a roadmap for other states seeking to ease employment restrictions.
5. The Supreme Court Struck a Major Blow to Police Profiteering
On February 20, 2019, the United States Supreme Court decided Timbs v. Indiana. The majority concluded that the Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause applied to the states, thus restricting state and local law enforcement’s ability to seize private property of citizens found guilty or merely accused of crimes. In response, some states have already passed legislation that would require prosecutors to submit public reporting of asset seizures.
6. Good Riddance to the Obamacare Individual Mandate (at Least for Now)
The United States Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit held that the individual mandate is invalid. The individual mandate was the central tenet of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare); this required Americans to purchase health insurance or to subject themselves to a government penalty, or tax. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 eliminated the penalty. While this ruling is impactful for the current state of the healthcare system, the Supreme Court’s ruling in National Federation of Independent Businesses v. Sebelius still stands as precedent, and an appeal to the Supreme Court is already in the works.
What's to Come
These victories for liberty bode well for the future, but the struggle for liberty continues. It is important to remember that fear is the most powerful motivator and the bane of liberty. This explains why politicians and pundits advance the narrative of catastrophism and it can explain why it seems like every issue in this country has become “a crisis.” In times of crisis, many are willing to look the other way to sacrifice liberty for the sake of security. As Benjamin Franklin once said, "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."
The more we focus on the ties that bind us, the more we can focus on securing liberty. We can start by reminding one another about the victories for liberty that are so often overshadowed by the daily news. We must not succumb to falsehoods about the progress made in this decade, in 2019, or in years to come.