John Locke and State Governments

Eric Martin
4 min readJul 24, 2021


The consent of the governed establishes all governments. In the United States, 49 states have bicameral legislatures, while only Nebraska has one. While the structure of each state government can vary, their primary responsibility is to preserve Property, that is, his Life, Liberty, and estate, against the Injuries and Attempts. Legislatures engage in three principal functions: policymaking, representation, and oversight (Bowman & Kearney, 2017, p. 6.1). The first, policymaking, includes enacting laws and allocating funds. The first two roles, policy-making, and representation are the two most essential legislative functions.

Locke wrote in the Second Treatise that government, by the consent of the people, is “bound to govern by established standing Laws, promulgated and known to the People, and not by Extemporary Decrees” (Capaldi et al., 2011, p. 26). This means that all laws are passed by the representatives who the people freely elect. Whether that government is state or national, the people have a right to choose their leaders and not be ruled by arbitrary orders.

Reapportionment provided an immediate benefit to previously underrepresented urban areas. Reynolds v. Sims (1964), Chief Justice Earl Warren summed up the apportionment ideal by saying, “Legislators represent people, not trees or acres” (Bowman & Kearney, 2017, p. 6.2b). This means that representative districts should reflect the population of the area. The increased urban representation led to growing responsiveness in state legislatures to cities and suburbs’ problems and interests. Locke wrote, “they must not raise taxes on the Property of the People, without the Consent of the People” (Capaldi et al., 2011, p. 26).

The increased responsiveness to voter concerns will allow those who live in previously underserved areas to have quality representation. The increase in representation that followed reappointment allowed urban and suburban voters to have an equal say one taxes and government spending. Jesus said, Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God (Matthew 22:21). In a representative government, we the people, decide how much tax money flows to the state capital. Increasing representation gave more people a vote on how their money is spent.

Structured in a model John Locke would likely approve, state court systems are heavily decentralized. Most states court systems today have a two-tiered structure that includes trial and appellate courts. They are separated into two categories, limited jurisdiction and major trial courts. Judges are selected in many ways. In Virginia and South, Carolina judges are determined by the state legislature. In thirty-eight states, judges must run in elections. They are either partisan or nonpartisan races. Meanwhile, other states have a merit system. A merit system is when a common selects three or more prospective judges, and the governor appoints their preferred candidate for the vacant judgeship. (Bowman & Kearney, 2017, p. 9.2).

I think Locke would disprove the judicial decision-making process when they step into the legislative arena. Locke said that Judges decide controversies by the law based on those passed by the legislature. As we saw in Wisconsin, the idea of a court system overturning a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to carry a concealed weapon would run counter to Locke’s popular government view (Bowman & Kearney, 2017 p. 9.3c).

Judicial federalism is where state courts look to their constitution and laws before on important state and local issues rather than federal courts (Bowman & Kearney, 2017, p. 9.4). This would be the correct Lockean and biblical structure. Problems and their solutions should be found and resolved in the lowest area possible. During their journey from Egypt to the promised land, Moses became a workaholic trying to solve all of the problems. Moses’ father-in-law Jethro, advised him to delegate some of his authority so that he would be able to lead better (Wyatt, 2016).

Allowing state courts to focus on their state allows the federal court system to handle the cases they were designed to interpret the United States Constitution and federal laws. The very nature of American federalism is for the people of the states to solve their most pressing issues at the lowest possible level. Most conflicts that become political can and should be solved at the states level where the laws were created.


Bowman, A. O. M., & Kearney, R. C. (2017). How Judges Are Selected. In State and local government (p. 9–2). essay, Cengage Learning.

Bowman, A. O. M., & Kearney, R. C. (2017). Influences of the Legal System. In State and local government (p. 9–3c). essay, Cengage Learning.

Bowman, A. O. M., & Kearney, R. C. (2017). Judicial Federalism. In State and local government (p. 9–4). essay, Cengage Learning.

Bowman, A. O. M., & Kearney, R. C. (2017). Legislative Districts. In State and local government (p. 6–2b). Cengage Learning.

Bowman, A. O. M., & Kearney, R. C. (2017). The Essence of Legislatures. In State and local government (p. 6–1). Cengage Learning.

Capaldi, N., Lloyd, J. G., & Locke, J. (2011). The Rule of Law. In The two narratives of political economy (p. 26). essay, Scrivener Pub.

Michael Wyatt. (2016, April 8). What the Bible Says About Leadership and Delegation. Michael Hyatt.



Eric Martin

Husband. Father. Veteran. Purple Heart Recipient Twitter: @actionaxiom