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Federalism and State Powers

Further Readings

Definition of Federalism
Federalism may be characterized as a system of government under which power is divided between the national government and various state governments. An important feature of federalism is that the national and state governments areeach supreme, or sovereign, within their own sphere of power. However, the national government may enact legislation which directly effects the states' citizens without seeking the states' consent.
Under this dual system of sovereignty, the national government is granted those powers which facilitate the efficient operation of a central authority, aswell as compel the respect of other countries. By way of example, it is empowered to regulate commerce between the states, lay and collect taxes, and declare war. Through representation in Congress, the citizens of each state areassured of participation in the national government and are provided with anavenue by which to protect and promote local interests.
History of Federalism in America
During the early years of this nation, many regarded the concept of a strongcentral government with suspicion and scorn. According to popular political thought, a republican form of government could survive only in a relatively small country. As a result, the Articles of Confederation, the Constitution's predecessor, conferred few powers on the national government. Ratified in 1781, the Articles of Confederation expressly retained the states' "sovereignty,freedom and independence." The states kept all power which was not expresslygranted to Congress. Under this scheme, Congress had been deprived of the essential powers to tax and regulate commerce. A financial nightmare arose whenthe states failed to provide the central government with revenue. Moreover, the Articles of Confederation failed to establish a federal judiciary. Instead, Congress had been authorized to resolve certain types of disputes.
In 1787, a Constitutional Convention was convened for the purpose of remedying the inherent weaknesses under the Articles of Confederation. The delegatesdebated competing plans: (1) the Virginia Plan, which proposed a strong national government with authority to define its own power, as well as that of thestates; and (2) the New Jersey Plan, which favored strong state governments.The New Jersey Plan received little support since it was too similar to theArticles of Confederation.
A heated dispute arose between large and small states over the proper means of determining representation in both chambers of the national legislature. While the large states advocated representation according to population, the small states called for equal representation. They finally settled on a solution known as the Great Compromise, which allowed equal voting power for each state in the Senate and representation by population in the House of Representatives. Many viewed the recognition of state equality as a concession to statesovereignty. In the end, however, the delegates voted in favor of a strengthened central government, with executive, legislative, and judicial branches.Article VI of the Constitution provided that "[t]his 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." Such language would have been unthinkable under the Articles of Confederation, which was so protective of state sovereignty that it referred to the union between the states merely as "a firm league of friendship."
The Constitution was the subject of intense political debate after it was submitted to state conventions for ratification in accordance with Article VII,which required ratification by nine states. Anti-federalists greatly feared that the proposed central government would ultimately obliterate state sovereignty. They also argued that, unlike some state constitutions, the Constitution lacked a bill of rights. In support of the Constitution, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay authored a series of articles known collectively as the Federalist. It is regarded as one of the most significant political documents in this country's history because it sets forth explanationsas to the various provisions under the Constitution.
Shortly after the Constitution was ratified in 1788, the Bill of Rights (thefirst ten amendments) was proposed by Congress and ratified in 1791 by three-fourths of the states, as required under Article V. The Bill of Rights placedlimitations on the federal government's ability to infringe upon the personal liberties and fundamental rights of the citizenry. For example, the First Amendment prohibited Congress from enacting laws which abridged the freedom ofspeech, while the Fourth Amendment forbade unreasonable searches and seizures. However, these limitations were not yet applicable to the states. At thattime, the states were constitutionally forbidden only from passing bills of attainder, ex post facto laws, and laws impairing the obligation of contracts, all of which were specifically mentioned under Article I, in the main body of the Constitution.
During the Civil War, the issue of state sovereignty was crucial inasmuch asthe Southern states insisted that, as independent entities, they had the right to secede from the Union. The outcome of the Civil War settled once and forall that the ultimate sovereign power of this country was vested in the national government.
Following the Civil War, the Fourteenth Amendment was added to the Constitution. Section 1 provided that "[a]ll persons born or naturalized in the UnitedStates, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." The Fourteenth Amendment clearly rendered state citizenship secondary to national citizenship. Moreover, the Fourteenth Amendment made the Bill of Rights applicable to the states, which meant that the states were legally bound to honor and protect their citizens' federally-conferred rights. During subsequent years, Congress has used its constitutionally-granted powers, especially its authority to regulate interstate commerce, to further encroach upon state autonomy.
Present-Day Relationship Between National Government & States
Congress has certain enumerated powers pursuant to Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution. By way of example, Congress is authorized to coin money, regulate commerce between the states and with Indian tribes and foreign countries, lay and collect taxes, declare war, raise and support armies, and provide and maintain a navy. Other congressional powers include, but are not limited to, establishing a post office, fixing the standard for weights and measures,establishing a uniform rule for naturalization, and creating inferior federalcourts. (Article III, Section 1 established only the Supreme Court). Furthermore, the Necessary and Proper Clause under Article I, Section 8 gives Congress the authority "[t]o make all laws which shall be necessary and proper forcarrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested bythis constitution in the government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof." However, the Constitution sets forth several restrictions as to the exercise of congressional power. For example, Article I, Section 9 forbids Congress from suspending the writ of habeas corpus, exceptwhen the public safety may require it. Article I, Section 9 also bars Congress from passing bills of attainder and ex post facto laws, as well asfrom bestowing titles of nobility.
Moreover, Congress is required to fulfill several constitutionally-imposed mandates. Under Article IV, Section 4, Congress is obligated to guarantee eachstate a republican form of government and to protect the states against invasion and, upon proper application, against domestic violence. With respect tothe states, the Tenth Amendment provides that "[t]he powers not delegated tothe United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." In other words, thestates retain their "police power" to enact laws for the health, safety, andwelfare of their citizens. Similar to Congress, state legislatures are facedwith constitutional limitations on their powers. For instance, Article I, Section 10 forbids states from entering into treaties, coining money, or emitting bills of credit, all of which would interfere with Congress' ability to govern.
As to the states' exercise of authority over their citizens, Article I, Section 10 precludes the states from passing bills of attainder, ex post facto laws, and laws impairing contracts. Furthermore, the restrictions placedon the federal government under the Bill of Rights are applicable to the states via the Fourteenth Amendment.
It is not uncommon for both Congress and state governments to enact legislation with respect to a particular matter. Under the doctrine of preemption, a state statute must be invalidated if Congress has "occupied the field," whichmeans that Congress has intended to the be the sole regulator of the matter in question. For instance, Congress has clearly preempted the right to coin money. Not only is Congress empowered to coin money, but states are specifically forbidden from coining money. On the other hand, Congress and state governments may have concurrent, or shared, power with respect to certain matters. Although Congress is authorized to fix the standard of weights and measures, courts have upheld local regulations in this area.
While Congress preempts the right to regulate interstate commerce (commerce between states), states have the authority to regulate intrastate commerce (commerce within a state) pursuant to their reserved power under the Tenth Amendment. However, a state statute will be invalidated if it substantially or unreasonably places a burden on interstate commerce. All aspects of interstate commerce--from the actual transportation of a product to the wage regulation of employees involved in interstate commerce--have been subjected to congressional authority. In reality, Congress has aggressively used the Commerce Clause as a means of exercising a federal "police power" to legislate over the health, safety, and welfare of the national citizenry, at the expense of state power. For example, in Champion v. Ames (1903), the Supreme Court upheld a federal statute which prohibited the transportation of lottery tickets across state lines. Of course, Congress' underlying motive had been to controlgambling, rather than oversee interstate commerce.
Modern Relationship Between States
Article IV, Section 1 provides that "[f]ull faith and credit shall be given in each state to the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state . . . " Furthermore, Article IV, Section 2 provides that "[t]he citizens of each state shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several states." Taken together, the above language means thatstates should honor valid judgments rendered in sister states and should notdiscriminate against another state's citizens. As a practical matter, however, a state may balk at recognizing a claim which is valid in another state ifit regards such a claim to be against its own public policy.

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