Federalism

Federalism is a political concept in which a group of members are bound together by covenant (Latin: foedus, covenant) with a governing representative head. The term federalism is also used to describe a system of the government in which sovereignty is constitutionally divided between a central governing authority and constituent political units (like states or provinces). Federalism is a system in which the power to govern is shared between national and provincial/state governments, creating what is often called a federation. Proponents are often called federalists.

Federalism is the type of politics wherein a group of members create a sovereign constitution with central governing authority and political units.

Federalism in the United States is the evolving relationship between state governments and the federal government of the United States. American government has evolved from a system of dual federalism to one of associative federalism. In “Federalist No. 46,” James Madison asserted that the states and national government “are in fact but different agents and trustees of the people, constituted with different powers.” Alexander Hamilton, writing in “Federalist No. 28,” suggested that both levels of government would exercise authority to the citizens’ benefit: “If their [the peoples’] rights are invaded by either, they can make use of the other as the instrument of redress.” (http://www.learner.org/courses/democracyinamerica/dia_3/dia_3_topic.html)

Because the states were preexisting political entities, the U.S. Constitution did not need to define or explain federalism in any one section. However, it contains numerous mentions of the rights and responsibilities of state governments and state officials vis-à-vis the federal government. The federal government has certain express powers (also called enumerated powers) which are powers spelled out in the Constitution, including the right to levy taxes, declare war, and regulate interstate and foreign commerce. In addition, the Necessary and Proper Clause gives the federal government the implied power to pass any law “necessary and proper” for the execution of its express powers. Powers that the Constitution does not delegate to the federal government or forbid to the states—the reserved powers—are reserved to the people or the states.[6] The power delegated to the federal government was significantly expanded by amendments to the Constitution following the Civil War, and by some later amendments—as well as the overall claim of the Civil War, that the states were legally subject to the final dictates of the federal government.

The Federalist party of the United States was dissolved in 1824. They were heavily opposed by the Democratic-Republicans, which included powerful figures such as Thomas Jefferson. The Democratic-Republicans mainly believed that:

a) The Legislative had too much power (mainly because of the Necessary and Proper Clause) and that they were unchecked.

b) The Executive branch had too much power, and that there was no check on him. A dictator would arise.

c) A bill of rights should be coupled with the constitution to prevent a dictator (then believed to eventually be the president) from exploiting citizens. The federalists, on the other hand, argued that it was impossible to list all the rights, and those that were not listed could be easily overlooked because they were not in the official bill of rights. Rather, rights in specific cases were to be decided by the judicial system of courts.

After the Civil War, the federal government increased greatly in size and influence, in terms of its influence on everyday life and its size relative to the state governments. There are several reasons for this, including the need to regulate businesses and industries that span state borders, attempts to secure civil rights, and the provision of social services.

Many people believe that the federal government has grown beyond the bounds permitted by the express powers. From 1938 until 1995, the U.S. Supreme Court did not invalidate any federal statute as exceeding Congress’ power under the Commerce Clause for over fifty years until United States v. Lopez overturned the power of the Federal government under the Commerce Clause (see also, challenging the Gun-Free School Zones Act). However, most actions by the federal government can find some legal support among the express powers, such as the Commerce Clause. The Commerce Clause is used by Congress to justify certain federal laws, but its applicability has been narrowed by the Supreme Court in recent years. For example, the Supreme Court rejected the Gun-Free School Zones Act in the aforementioned Lopez decision, and they also rejected the civil remedy portion of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 in the United States v. Morrison decision. Recently, the Commerce Clause was interpreted to include marijuana laws in the Gonzales v. Raich decision.

Dual federalism holds that the federal government and the state governments are co-equals, each sovereign. In this theory, parts of the Constitution are interpreted narrowly, such as the Tenth Amendment, the Supremacy Clause, the Necessary and Proper Clause, and the Commerce Clause. Under this narrow interpretation, the federal government has jurisdiction only if the Constitution clearly grants such. In this case, there is a large group of powers belonging to the states or the people, and the federal government is limited to only those powers explicitly listed in the Constitution.[7]

However, since the Civil War Era, the national courts often interpret the federal government as the final judge of its own powers under dual federalism. The establishment of Native American governments (which are separate and distinct from state and federal government) exercising limited powers of sovereignty, has given rise to the concept of “bi-federalism.”

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