Review: Federalism
The Federal Framework
State and local governments play such important roles in the lives of American citizens because the United States is a federal system in which other levels of government are assigned considerable responsibility. The enduring significance of state and local governments reflects the Founders' distrust of centralized power.

  1. How does a federal system differ from other forms of government?
    • A federal system is one in which governmental powers are shared by the national and state governments, which remain separate sovereigns.
    • A unitary system is one in which the national government is dominant over state governments.
    • A confederation is a political system in which the state governments are dominant over the national government.

  2. How does federalism limit the power of the national government?
    • The national government is given certain "expressed powers," which can be found in Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution.
    • The seventeen expressed powers are enhanced by the implied powers, or the "necessary and proper" clause.
    • Powers not granted to the national government are reserved to the states under the Tenth Amendment.
    • Power reserved to the states is generally referred to as "police power," which allows states to regulate the health, safety, welfare, and morality of their residents.
    • Some of the powers of the national government are shared with the states and are said to be concurrent powers (e.g., the power to tax), while others are exclusive to either the national government or the states.
    • The Constitution attempts to promote national unity through Article IV and the "Full Faith and Credit" clause, which provides that civil acts (e.g., marriage and divorce) are recognized in other states.
    • Local governments are omitted from the Constitution, deferring such matters to state constitutions.

  3. What is dual federalism?
    • The Constitution created two layers of government: the national government and the state governments, a system referred to as dual federalism.
    • Under the traditional system, the federal government was quite small in comparison to state governments and other national governments in Western Europe.
    • The American government of the 1800s was a "commercial republic."

  4. How did the traditional system change over time?
    • The traditional system remained in place for the first hundred years of American history, despite economic forces favoring the expansion of national powers.
    • The U.S. Supreme Court recognized the powers of the national government in McCulloch v. Maryland and Gibbons v. Ogden, but economic regulation would remain limited due to the intrastate nature of commerce in the 1800s.
    • It was not until 1937 that the Supreme Court used the interstate commerce clause to expand the powers of the national government.
    • As a result of this expansion, the Tenth Amendment seemed to take a secondary role to the increased power of the national government.
    • In the 1990s, the Supreme Court revitalized the Tenth Amendment in the case of United States v. Lopez, when it ruled that Congress exceeded its constitutional authority in enacting of a ban on handguns near public schools.

Who Does What? The Changing Federal Framework

  1. Why did the balance of responsibility shift toward the national government in the 1930s?
    • State governments were unable to deal with the effects of the Great Depression and as a result, demands were made on the national government to intervene.
    • President Franklin Roosevelt responded to these demands with the New Deal, which inevitably led to an increase in the power of the national government.

  2. What means does the national government use to control the actions of the states?
    • Federal grants-in-aid with strings attached are one means of control over the states.
    • Cooperative efforts between the national government and the states have contributed to increased national power.
    • Expanded federal regulatory power increased the dominance of the national government over the states.
    • Congress has used unfunded mandates and federal preemption to exercise power over the states.

  3. How is federalism being debated today?
    • President Nixon began an effort to return power to the states through the use of block grants and revenue sharing.
    • President Reagan attempted to return control over many programs to the states and implement deregulation.
    • In 1994 Congress limited the use of unfunded mandates and implemented welfare reform, which sent control of the program back to the states.
    • Many argue that increased state power is a recipe for disaster—a race to the bottom—in which there is no incentive for states to provide for environmental regulation or social welfare.

Copyright © 2001W.W. Norton & Company