Federalism: Supreme Court of the United States and Power

Topics: Supreme Court of the United States, United States Constitution, U.S. state Pages: 5 (1705 words) Published: September 18, 2001
Federalism has played a large role in our government since the time that the Constitution was ratified. It originally gave the majority of the power to the states. As time went on, the national government gained more and more power. It used the "necessary and proper" clause of the Constitution to validate its acts, and the Supreme Court made decisions that strengthened the national government creating a more unified United States. Finally, the recent course of federalism has been to give powers back to the states. Federalism was needed in the Constitution to make sure that the national government did not gain too much power. After the revolution, many people feared a monarchy or any form of government in which the central ruling body had too much power. The framers wanted the states to have much more power than the national government, and allowed the national government power only in areas that concerned the nation as a whole. Areas such as war, negotiation, and foreign commerce were some of the only circumstances in which the national government had absolute power. By limiting the national governments power in this way, the writers felt that they had ensured the sovereignty of the individual states. Also, people have a tendency to feel more connected to their state government than they would a national government. Therefore, by giving the states more power, people are more likely to be happy with their government. Federalist papers 45 and 46 are both arguments by James Madison as to why the people should not be afraid of the proposed Constitution and the powers it entailed regarding the national government. In paper 45, he shows that without the state legislatures a president cannot be elected. The same is true for the Senate and the House of Representatives. Madison also stated in paper 45 that the number of tax collectors that the national government will have compared to the number employed by the state governments is very small. The powers given to the national government under the Constitution would be few in number and their purpose would be specifically defined so that those powers could not be overstepped. At the same time, the powers of the state governments are abundant and not specifically defined, clearly swaying the balance of power towards the states. Federalist paper 46 is essentially an extension of the points made in 45. It says that in the case that the national government should impose on the limits placed on it by the constitution, the states will have the power to defeat the encroachment and return the national government to its previous state of power. Madison also stated more points in the Constitution through which state governments would have more power than the national government. He says that the only way the national government could take over the state governments would be if the people continuously elected men to office that wanted to betray both people and states.

The "necessary and proper" clause was included in the Constitution to allow for an "active and powerful government." It is also known as the elastic clause and basically stated that the national government had the ability to pass any law that was necessary and proper to carry out national business. John Marshall expanded the interpretation of the "necessary and proper" mainly through the Supreme Court decision in McCulloch v. Maryland. His decision that a state could not tax an agency of the national government was not the only outcome of the court case. Marshall took the opportunity to say that even though it is not mentioned in the Constitution, the national government has the right to charter a national bank.

The decisions on McCulloch v. Maryland and Gibbons v. Ogden also expanded the role of the national government. McCulloch v. Maryland's decision that a state government could not tax an agency of the national government was important in that it set a precedent that gave the national government more power...
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