What is Federalism?
Dr. Robert Poydasheff
November 6, 2013
Federalism and the federal system were formed in order to be the foundation of American government. “Federalism is a political system in which ultimate authority is shared between a central government and state or regional governments”. In recent times federalism has become more competing. Obviously, federalism in the US involves the relationship between the federal government and those of the states. As recalled from history lessons, the US was formed when the thirteen original states notified the Articles of Confederation. Under the articles the US was not a nation, but rather a Confederation (or league) of friendly states (a modern comparison would be the European Union). After the war, states sent delegates to a constitutional convention with designs to amend the Article to address several issues. The Articles envisioned a permanent confederation but granted to congress no way to finance itself of enforce its resolutions, among other things. Instead of amending, however the convention produced an entirely new constitution. From around 1781 through the duration of, and for a period after, we operated under the Articles of Confederation. Under this arrangement, the states retained most of the power grating only a few to the continental congress. Even though our current constitution grants more power to the federal government than the Articles did, the states still remain more authority over what happens within their territories (at least in theory). Primarily, two provisions govern how the federal and state governments now share and divide power, “Article 1 Section 8 (which enumerates the power of Congress), and the Tenth Amendment, which states: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by It to the states are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.” The federal government has the power to among other things lay and collect taxes regulate commerce, establish an immigration system, and raise and army and navy. The thought was that the federal government had a few enumerated powers that it could not exceed (absent amendment) whereas the states can do as they see fit to ensure the safety and welfare of their residents. For example, states can pass laws criminalizing a wide range of conduct such as murder, burglary, rape, robbery, etc. The federal government is limited in its authority to proscribe states are often called (by both courts and politicians) laboratories of democracy. The same basic issues exist is basically every state; how to keep people safe, how to make sure people safe, how to make sure people get needed medical care, how to improve education. While many states may approach the same issue in the same manner, other states may adopt novel approaches. For example, Massachusetts and Utah both tackles healthcare reform, Louisiana is using state money to send kids from bad schools to private schools, and other states have legalized medicinal and/or recreational marijuana. If something has a positive effect on quality of life issues, it is often adopted by money other states, and perhaps nationwide. So, another way federalism in a concept in American political life is it permits states to experiments with remedies to various problems. With different states trying various approaches, solutions are often discovered. A third way federalism affects American political behaviors is it permits disagreements between the federal and state governments. For example, Obamacare included provisions that expanded Medicaid. The law threatened to pull existing Medicaid funding from states that didn’t expand the program. The case went to the Supreme Court which held that the federal government could not hold the states existing funding hostage, so states were free to refuse to expand their Medicaid programs (which many states did). Also,...
References: LaCroix, A.L., ACS blog (American Constitution Society)for Law and Policy
Wilson, Dllulio, Bose, (2014), American Government: Brief Version, (11th ed), Cengage Learning
Katz, E. (1997), Issues of Democracy, retrieved from www.ucs.louisiana.edu
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