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[ATG] Opinion Column: Legal challenges perform check and balance
Start Date: 8/22/2014Start Time: 12:00 AM
End Date: 8/22/2014
Entry Description

This opinion column by Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller appeared in Indiana newspapers the week of August 20.

Legal challenges perform check and balance
By Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller

Recently some have questioned why the State of Indiana has brought lawsuits against our federal government. While this litigation is adversarial by nature, it is a necessary part of our constitutional process.  

What distinguishes the U.S. Constitution from the constitutions of other nations is dual sovereignty.  While most nations have a single sovereign in a national government, in the U.S. we have both federal and state government under our system of federalism, each with its own constitutional authority.  This unique feature is part of the careful system of checks and balances created in the Constitution.

Legal challenges filed in court are an important method of preserving federalism, meaning a proper balance between the roles of federal and state governments. When the federal government overreaches and exceeds its authority, and in so doing injures a state government, that state can challenge those actions and seek review by the courts.

The Constitution checks state governments, which were meant to compete without interfering with each other.  For instance, individual state restrictions targeting interstate trade would be challenged under the Constitution’s commerce clause and its import-export clause – either by a private plaintiff or the federal government itself – since interstate trade is a federal responsibility, and courts would likely find the state actions unconstitutional.

In our unique balancing act of state versus federal power, periodic testing of our system of checks and balances is important. What Robert Frost observed about people is also true about governments:  “Good fences make good neighbors.” 

Groups of states in recent years have challenged federal government actions with some successes. In USARG v. EPA, the Supreme Court ruled the Environmental Protection Agency could not extend its regulation of certain greenhouse-gas emissions beyond what Congress had authorized. In Florida v. HHS, the Supreme Court ruled the federal government could not coerce states into a mandatory expansion of their Medicaid programs, as it is a state-by-state decision.

More recently, Indiana has joined a new multistate challenge to EPA actions and also brought a separate challenge to the Internal Revenue Service. Represented by my office, state government asks the courts to review whether EPA and IRS have exceeded the limits of their statutory authority Congress granted. While some have confused these legal challenges for policy debates, these lawsuits instead should rightly be seen as part of the check on our federal government, as they test whether the federal government’s actions were permissible under law.

Regardless of whether the courts conclude these federal agencies are within their authority or have overstepped the bounds of federal statutes, Indiana’s legal challenges serve the purpose of providing a healthy check on the federal government.

Greg Zoeller is attorney general of Indiana. For more information, see this link:



Location Information:
Contact Information:
Name: Bryan Corbin
Phone: 317.233.3970
Entry Type:
Press Release
Entry Category:
  • Announcements
  • Category:
  • Government
  • Agency Name
    Attorney General

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