Lesson 1: Federalism * The Evolution of Federalism * Case Studies: Interstate Commerce, Civil Rights, Gun Control, Euthanasia, Medical Marijuana, Social Issues. "I hold, that in contemplation of universal law, And of the Constitution, the Union of these States is perpetual."-Abraham Lincoln Expected Outcomes: To understand the constitutional distribution of power between federal and state governments, and to appreciate how this tension, built into the constitution, manifests itself across important case studies.
OverviewLesson 1 examined the separation of powers into three branches (legislative, executive and judicial). It also examined the system of "checks and balances" that keeps any one branch from gaining too much power - from becoming tyrannical.Lesson 2, by contrast, examines the division of government between the "federal" government, also known as the national government, with its capital in Washington D.C., and the "state" governments, of which there are 50 today.While the Article of Confederation gave enormous powers to each of the original 13 states, the U.S. Constitution was written in order to distribute power between the federal government and the states. This system is known as "federalism."FederalismAs mentioned above, "federalism" refers to the relative distribution of power between the national or federal government in Washington D.C. and each of the states – of which there are now 50. The U.S. Constitution describes the powers that belong to the federal or national government. These "delegated powers" include the power to regulate inter-state commerce; the power make treaties with foreign nations; the power to raise armies, declare war, raise taxes, and so on. Simultaneously, the Constitution describes the powers that belong to the state governments. These "reserved powers" are reserved to the states. It is also possible to speak of "concurrent powers," which are shared between the federal and state governments. Finally, it is possible to describe "powers denied" to both federal and state governments, like the power to abridge individual rights by restricting the right to vote.
In many ways, and by design, the Constitution contains a tension between national and state power. This tension, never fully resolved, has manifested itself in countless national-state controversies.
The Constitution does provide the United States Congress with a great deal of authority in crafting the nation's laws, and this authority is seen, among other places, in the "necessary and proper clause" of Article I.
Article I, Section 8, "Clause" 18:"The Congress shall have power …To make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof.|
Furthermore, the Constitution gives the federal government in Washington D.C. "supremacy" over the states. As seen below, the "national supremacy clause" in Article VI of the Constitution asserts the supremacy of federal laws over state laws:
Article VI, Clause 2:This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any state to the Contrary notwithstanding.| The federal government has indeed flexed its constitutional muscles over the years. In fact, one of the major plot lines in the history of American federalism is the steady growth of the national federal government and the relative decline of state power and states' rights.
Some scholars even go so far as to insist that "federalism" is an antiquated concept and that what the U.S. actually has is a national "unitary" system. The states, these...